Thursday, October 27, 2011

Coverlove: Larkstorm by Dawn Miller

My friend Dawn has this book. She's releasing it as an e-book later this year, and I've been itching to read it since I heard about it, many months ago, but haven't gotten the chance to yet. Today she revealed the cover, and I have to say, it's one of my recent favorites. Check it out!

Gorgeous. So dynamic and interesting.

Here's the summary:

--

In the years following the destructive Long Winter, when half the world’s population perished, the State remains locked in battle against the Sensitives: humans born with extra abilities.

As one of the last descendants of the State’s Founders, seventeen-year-old Lark Greene knows her place: study hard and be a model citizen so she can follow in her family’s footsteps. Her life’s been set since birth, and she’s looking forward to graduating and settling down with Beck, the boy she’s loved longer than she can remember.

However, after Beck is accused of being Sensitive and organizing an attack against Lark, he disappears. Heartbroken and convinced the State made a mistake, Lark sets out to find him and clear his name.

But what she discovers is more dangerous and frightening than Sensitives: She must kill the boy she loves, unless he kills her first.

--

If that summary beckons to you, you can add the book on Goodreads here, or follow Dawn on Twitter here. Sweet!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Insta!Love and The Unconvinced Reader

One of the big problems people--especially avid YA readers--have with young adult books is the romantic love timeline. Often the term used (especially by me) is insta!love. But I'm starting to think that sometimes, we are feeling the symptoms of an illness without identifying it properly, like every time I get a cold and call it a sinus infection.

"People don't fall in love in a day/week/[insert short unit of time here]" is a phrase I often see, and have said in the past, but it doesn't match up with my current experience or the experiences of people I know. I fell in love in a short time at 22, which doesn't make me Old, Wise, and Adult, or anything, but it means this isn't a "silly teenager thing." And for every person I know who took their time falling in love, I know four or five who didn't, including my parents, and now my stepparent+parent combo deal. Yet before my experience this year, I myself uttered the phrase "people don't fall in love in a week" often, and I think I know why.

Those of us who have either been in a long-term, serious relationship before (or at least have "realistic" as opposed to "idealistic" views of relationships) tend to define romantic love narrowly. We have either experienced a quieter, deeper kind of love, based not on an idealized view of a person but on a more grounded view of them, or have an idea of it, and we believe anything that doesn't fit into our definition can't possibly qualify as love, it has to be infatuation.

I have thought that many times, and in that belief, I was a little arrogant. First, because it assumes that I know what it is not to have an idealized view of someone. Just because I'm aware that the person I'm with has flaws doesn't mean that I don't still idealize him. I mean, no one knows some of the awful things I think and then discard with shame. It's true that right now, one person knows them better than anyone else, but even he can't read my heart with complete accuracy, and he never will, even if he gets very close. So I try not to assume that I know him perfectly, either.

And second, it's a little arrogant because I am telling people who are in the early stages of falling in love that what they're experiencing isn't real, and that they're too blinded to know that. "You'll understand one day" is what I'm saying. Man, that's annoying of me.

If it's a little arrogant, it's also completely understandable. We look back at the obsessive need to be in someone's presence, the fluttering heartbeat, the daydreaming, and we think, "that was great, but it didn't compare to the depth of feeling I felt later." But the question I'm now asking myself is, just because I feel something deeper now, does that mean that I should discount what I felt at first? Does the presence of a deeper feeling negate the validity of a shallower feeling?

Or is love a kind of continuum that you move down, beginning with the moment you are aware of it, and progressing into a deeper and fuller and stronger version of itself?

I propose this: the symptoms of insta!love are disbelief and eye-rolling. But the illness is not the timeline, it's the fact that we remain unpersuaded by the author.

Most of the time, for me, the problem is "You're Hot, So I Love You." That is: the only in-text justification for the intense feelings of the characters is their physical attraction. We get many paragraphs dedicated to description, but none devoted to conversation or experiences that transcend the physical. Maybe the author even tells us something like "they talked for hours about this and this and this," but we don't get to see any of it, so we remain unconvinced.

So, for writers (and I'm reminding myself of this here): one of my writing professors in college said that often, when people say in critique that part of a story is not believable, the writer will say, "But that's what really happened!" And she told us, basically, that that response is total BS. It doesn't matter if something you write about happened in real life-- it matters if you convince the person reading it. And I think that's true of love stories. Yes, of course you can write a story in which the main characters develop a really strong connection in a week, because it really does happen--but the trick is, you have to make it feel real. You have to show the reader rather than insisting within the text that it's true, it's true, they really really like each other! Because otherwise, your reader is going to call your bluff.

Other thoughts for writers: A. Just because a character says "I love you" doesn't mean they have to mean it, B. just because your characters are ga-ga over each other doesn't mean they have to be in love yet, and C. ...I don't have another thought, I just like lists with three items in them.

And for readers, of which I am one: it's not that I think we should stop evaluating love stories for their believability. But I do think that it's important to make an effort to experience a story alongside the main character, rather than standing over the main character with our experiences or beliefs in hand like some kind of anti-insta!love weapon. And if, after we put the weapon down, we still read something and say "this is insta!love and it's annoying," I say, fair enough. Even if you say it about my books. I promise.

Because I am having a TOTAL BRAIN BLANK on all the books I have ever read, I asked some writer friends for recommendations of books in which a romantic connection develops quickly but not superficially, and I got these:
-Before I Die by Jenny Downham
-The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
-Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green
-It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (love story subplot)

Feel free to post other examples in the comments, if you have any!


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Writing, Revising, and (Not) Making Decisions

Writing is all about decision-making, whether you are deciding what word to use or what a character is like or what happens next in the story. Sometimes you worry that you're making the wrong decisions. Sometimes you are, and eventually you will have to double back and change your choice-- and everything else that comes after it.

But I don't think most of the problems with stories come from making the wrong decision-- they come from not really making a decision at all.

Now, you would think that if you don't choose one thing or another, you can't move the story forward, right? Not so much. You might be surprised what you can do with a plot while vacillating. I know. I'm a Vacillation Expert.

You can definitely move the story forward without making decisions. But the story becomes muddled and confusing. For example: in the final draft of Divergent, one of Tris's friends develops a crush on her. In the rough draft, he sort of did and didn't. There would be scenes in which he behaved as if he liked her, and scenes in which he seemed like just a friend, because I just couldn't decide if I wanted that or not. When I revised, I had to make a decision. And then I had to change every single scene that he was in. Which was, you know, not all that fun, but necessary.

And in Insurgent, I had to make a decision regarding a character's motivations. As I neared the end of the draft, I figured out what that character's motivation was, but I found that she had acted contrary to that motivation in the beginning, just to serve the plot. That's one way to instantly flatten a minor character, because they no longer seem like actual people, they're just there to advance the story. So, because I am not a fan of Instant Flattening, I had to go back and change it, but that affected several scenes later in the story, so I had to fix those, too.

The point is: if, as you are revising, you think that something is confusing or muddled or unclear, or your critique partners think so, have a look at the decisions you made. Figure out if you were too busy vacillating between two options to choose a clear path, and that's why a part of your draft is messy. And then go back and pick something.

And then maybe get some candy, because every scene that comes after your non-decision will probably have to change. 

I myself prefer Fun Dip.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How Much It Changed

SPOILER ALERT: This post will contain a lot of Divergent spoilers, so if you haven't read the book and want to keep yourself spoiler-free, close the blog.

The Twitterverse throws a lot of questions my way, and the most surprising one (surprising because of how often it's asked, not because of what it is) is: how much did Divergent change between the first draft and the published book?

This question is often asked by aspiring authors, and I never know quite what they want to hear. Do they want to hear that it didn't change at all, because that means their manuscript might not change that much? Will they think I don't deserve the book deal if they find out it changed a lot? Or do they want to hear that it changed a lot, because that means their manuscript might get snatched up by a publisher just because it has potential, regardless of whether it's perfect or not? The lesson in this is really: don't compare yourself to other people. Every manuscript and every writer is different. But just because it might interest you, I'll tell you about Divergent.

The First Draft

The rough draft of Divergent was about 56,000 words long. For those of you who don't speak word count, 56,000 words is a little less than 200 pages (at an average of 300 words per page, given the font size/spacing I usually use). It followed this outline:

-Tris takes her aptitude test and gets an inconclusive result
-Tris chooses Dauntless, Caleb chooses Abnegation
-(One-paragraph summary of the physical aspect of Dauntless training)
-Tris undergoes several simulations and bonds with Christina, Al, and Will, and somewhere in there, Tris gets attacked
-Tris and Four find out that Erudite's planning an attack
-The attack simulation happens, with Tris and Four immune
-Tris and Tobias storm Dauntless headquarters and shut down the simulation

So, essentially, the book was the same (with the big exception of Caleb), except smaller. Certain sections just didn't exist, including the first phase of Dauntless training, the Ferris wheel scene, Visiting Day, the visit to the fence, the visit to Caleb at Erudite headquarters, and the zipline scene. Certain characters also didn't exist, such as Uriah, Lynn, and Marlene.

The first draft, after some basic copy-edits, was pretty clean. I had received feedback from my critique partners as well as my agent on my previous manuscript that I applied to this one--such as removing things like "she reached out and picked up" and replacing it with "she picked up." (How did I not think of that myself? I still don't know. But thank goodness for critiquers.) Also, I used to work as a proofreader, so I had a pretty good knowledge of grammar and punctuation rules and I applied them as best I could. The only reason I mention this is that I believe (with no research to back it up) that it will help you a lot in your agent search if your manuscript is clean. If a manuscript has bad grammar and punctuation, it won't matter how brilliant the ideas or characters are, because agents won't be able to get through it. Just a side note.

The Second Draft

It's a bit of an oversimplification to say "the second draft," because the book actually went through several rounds of revision before I arrived at what I would call the second draft. One of them was with my current agent, after signing with her. Throughout this process, I added about 30,000 words, so the second draft was about 85,000 words long, or a little less than 300 pages in Word.

I didn't take anything out. My agent thought that what was there was good, but it was all so sparse that it wasn't living up to its potential. I needed to reveal more about Erudite, so I reconstructed Caleb, giving him Erudite leanings and having him choose Erudite instead of Abnegation. The side effect of this was that it added depth to the Prior family dynamic (yay!). I added Visiting Day (to flesh out the Divergent plotline better), the visit to the fence (for world-building/faction-building), and the entire first phase of Dauntless training (faction-building and atmosphere-building, as well as certain character arcs). I also changed the ending, because I'd never been happy with it.


The Last Draft

After the book deal, I went through a few rounds of revision with my editor. I added another 20,000 words, so the final draft clocks in at about 105,000 words, or 400 pages in Word. A lot of the changes were subtle-- I described more Chicago landmarks, I changed some of the friendship dynamics slightly. Many of the bigger changes came from a single question: if Dauntless is so awful and brutal, why on earth would Tris stay in it? Isn't she brave enough to defect and be factionless, if the Dauntless environment is that bad?

That was where the ziplining scene and the ferris wheel scene came from, as well as all the interactions with Uriah, Lynn, and Marlene. I needed to show that just like every other faction, Dauntless was a mixture of good and bad, and had veered from its original intentions-- but its original intentions were still there, in certain members and activities.

Again, I didn't cut anything, really. There was a lot of tweaking-- a few details in a few places can go a long way! For me, looking at the final draft is like looking at a skeleton with a body built around it. I can still see the bones from the first draft, but now they are stronger because they have flesh surrounding them.

So, that was my Divergent editing journey!

Friday, October 7, 2011

FAQs: The Random Edition

This is a round-up of some of the questions I've been getting on Twitter and in my inbox recently. In an attempt to wrestle some organization into this post, I have divided the questions into categories.

Yay, categories!


Insurgent Questions

When does Insurgent come out?
May, 2012!

How do I get an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of Insurgent?
If you are a book blogger, email your ARC request to Alison.Lisnow@harpercollins.com along with relevant links, stats, and information about your blog and its readership. (Please note that requesting an ARC doesn't guarantee that you’ll get one, since there aren't THAT many of them.) If you’re a fan but not a qualified book blogger, then watch the @HarperTeen twitter account, the DIVERGENT facebook fan page, and GoodReads for ARC contests and giveaways as we get closer to May.

Wow! The page count online says Insurgent is a LOT shorter than Divergent. What's up with that?
The page counts you see online are not always based on the actual manuscript. Sometimes they're just a number fed into the system as a kind of place holder. (I'm not sure why this happens, just that it does.) By my estimation, Insurgent is about the same length as Divergent.

Character Questions

What's Four's last name?
I have an official response to this question, and it is: you'll find out if you read Insurgent. Although I feel like I should add to that that it's not some huge shocking reveal. It's just that Four is so careful about using his name. He only does it when he has to. So I want you guys to feel the significance of it just like Tris does, even though it's not a shock.

What color is Four's hair?
The first time someone mentioned that I never said what color Four's hair is in Divergent, I refused to believe it. But then I double-checked, and realized that I didn't, actually. So, for the official record, his hair is dark brown.

What's Tris's eye color?
This one I did actually include in Divergent, but it's only there once or twice, so, again for the official record, her eyes are blue.

Who would you cast as Tris/Tobias?
In the past, I've responded to this in a few different ways, depending on my mood. I've said that I don't care who it is, even if they don't look quite right, as long as they're good at acting. (True.) I've said I like "nobodies." (Also true.) And I've said that I think Tris looks like Mia Wasikowska. (Still true.) And that I have no freaking idea who looks like Tobias. (This is the most true.)

Etc.

Can I audition for the movie?
I appreciate the enthusiasm, but not only is the movie-making process not nearly that far along yet, I really don't have anything to do with casting! All I do is write the books. Seriously.

Do you intend to write more books after this series?
Yes. But I'm taking one thing at a time.


How many books are in the series?
Some people ask this, I think, because the faction symbols are on the covers, and there are five faction symbols (therefore: five books, right?). But no. There will be three books, that is all.



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: Supporting Characters As Stars

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's question: What supporting character--

Snape.

from a YA book would you most like to see star in--

Snape.

--their own novel?

SNAPE!

I WANT IT ALL. The unrequited love, the fall into the Dark Arts, the decision to become a spy, the horrible loss, the selfless determination...It could be a whole SERIES. Tormented antiheroes for the win.

 
I mean, did you really have to ask?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How I Revise: Insurgent Edition

I'm not a huge fan of coming up with a revising system. I've heard before that every book is different, and I've found that to be true. Some come out quickly and easily. Some are painful and difficult. Some have gaping plot holes that need to be patched; some are coherent from the get-go but need work in other areas. I don't think how much revision is required necessarily reflects poorly on the work or on the writer. I do think revision is when the real work is done, and because each book is different, I've never done it the same way twice. I may find a good system later, when I have more experience, but right now I'm letting what the book requires dictate how I revise it.

Divergent came out clean and well-paced, but it was sparse and unbalanced. And Insurgent? Well, it came out as a big mess, like I hurled every single idea I had into a word document and then had to sort through it to find the good stuff. Finally, during this round of edits, I feel like it's clean again, and I thought it might be interesting to show you what I did with it.

I don't usually use Scrivener, but that's mostly because I had a PC until earlier this year, and they only just came out with Scrivener for Windows. So I didn't write the Insurgent draft in Scrivener, I wrote it in Word and decided to revise it in Scrivener this time. First I fed the manuscript in by importing the document and splitting it into chapters. Then I further subdivided it into manageable sections. Note: the actual manuscript doesn't have parts (you know, with a separate page saying PART 2, etc.), these are just chunks I found useful for editing purposes.


Then I imported my editorial letter, my agent's notes, and my notes from earlier rounds of revisions so that they were all in the same place and I could refer to them easily.

But most importantly, I made lists. I made a list of each character's goals/motivations (and each faction's goals/motivations) so that I could keep the characters consistent and make sure they weren't flat. I made a list of issues I still wasn't sure how to resolve so that I could continue to think about it as I work. And I made a checklist for what to keep in mind while editing the first section. Here, have a look:


When I work, I split the screen so that I can look at the chapter I'm working on on one side, and the editorial checklist for the section on the other side, (and on the far right, comments for the chapter itself, but that's not in this screenshot):


I also used color coding to help myself keep track and to give myself a visual representation of my progress. Blue means "I'm finished! Yay!" and yellow means "I'm currently working on this":


One thing I have used with every manuscript I've revised is checklists. Most of the time those lists are huge, like a page long, and arranged in order of difficulty. (Most difficult first, least difficult last.) This time I decided to go through the manuscript in order instead of arranging things in order of difficulty. It just made more sense for the draft.

That's how I'm revising! How about you?

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