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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Books vs. e-Books

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Books or e-books?  First of all, I don’t think this is a zero-sum game – that is to say, there’s definitely room for both real books and e-books in the world.  Although I definitely read way, way more real books (I have yet to pay for an e-book; I’ve only read free ones.  If I’m going to pay for it, I want to be able to HOLD it), there’s definitely a place for e-books.

What do you think are better places for e-books and better places for real books?  For example, one may be better for traveling and the other better for lending.  One may be better for reading embarrassing books (a la 50 Shades); one may be better for reading to a kid at bedtime (picture books!).  One may be easier to sign than the other…  Anyhow, check out the infographic below and feel free to weigh in!

Books vs. eBooks infographic - Novel Conclusions writing blog - writing tips - reading

Books vs. eBooks via stephenslighthouse.com

P.S. My favorite part might be the reminder that “Walking to the library is still the most ecofriendly way to read.”

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Authenticity in YA Fiction

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Child Soldier Drawing - Novel Conclusions writing blog - writing tips - authenticity in writing YA fiction

Child Soldier in the Ivory Coast, Africa, by Gilbert G. Groud via Wikimedia Commons

Orson Scott Card definitely caused a stir when he published Ender’s Game in 1977 with a young child being trained as a battle mastermind, away from his parents and any true parental authority from age 6 onward.  Very few books up to this point treated any character under the age of 14 as a character whose thoughts were to be taken seriously.  Why should a child represent humanity?

In an introduction to a reprint edition of Ender’s Game in 1991, Orson Scott Card tells us,

Never in my entire childhood did I feel like a child.  I felt like a person all along – the same person I am today.  I never felt that I spoke childishly.  I never felt that my emotions and desires were somehow less real than adult emotions and desires.  And in writing Ender’s Game, I forced the audience to experience the lives of these children from that perspective – the perspective in which their feelings and decisions are just as real and important as any adult’s.

Although there are definitely inauthentic parts of Ender’s Game (psychologically damaged and chauvinist much?), Card went out of his way to prove that children take themselves seriously even when adults frequently don’t.  This is one of the primary things that separate YA and MG (middle grade) books about youth from adult books written about children/youth; in the YA and MG books, the protagonists are acting in the here and now.  These youthful protagonists have real emotions and real issues; we as writers must treat these issues as such.  If we do not, we risk losing our readers.

Having spent years working with kids, both in my time teaching and in my ten summers at a girls’ overnight camp, I can absolutely attest to the idea that kids and youth have real emotions, desires, and issues.  The primary difference between them and us is their lack of experience (and their frequent desire to hide that lack of experience).

What we as writers must learn to do is write the truth right there on the page; it should ring with emotional integrity.  This can be harder than it sounds.  In Writing Irresistible Kidlit, Mary Kole reminds us that

Teens have a very sensitive BS-o-meter.  So for the YA market especially – even though this applies to all kidlit – authenticity and truth are paramount.  If something is cheesy or irrelevant, teen readers will not hesitate to declare you a poseur.

What are our takeaways?

  • Be authentic in your writing.  Write truth.
  • Treat your characters’ issues like they matter.  If they don’t matter to you as the writer, they certainly won’t matter to your readers.

What else do you think is frequently stereotyped with youth protagonists?  Do you have any favorite authentic youth protagonists?

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Inciting Incidents and Why They Rock Your Plot

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Sparkler by Josh Wickerham via Wikimedia Commons

What’s an inciting incident and what makes it so important?  Why are writing teachers always talking about them?

First of all, let’s get on the same page about what an inciting incident is.  It is that moment at the beginning of the story when something changes and sets the plot in motion, or, as Mary Kole puts it in Writing Irresistible Kidlit , it is “the event that takes your character from his sense of normal (life and business as usual) and launches him into the main conflict of your story.”  This usually takes place at or around the end of the first chapter, sometimes sooner.

In Natalie Whipple’s Transparent (yes, the book I mentioned a couple weeks ago – it’s awesome!  Check it out!) Fiona’s father is trying to force her hand to get her to murder someone, and she has to run away or become a killer.  This catapults us into the story.  Although invisible Fiona has done her dad’s bidding before, she’s never had to kill anyone, and this pushes her and her mother to take action and run away.  It pulls Fiona and her mother out of their normal and into a world of conflicted plot awesomeness.

In Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler’s The Future of Us, Emma and Josh log on to the internet for the first time – and discover their Facebook pages, fifteen years in the future.  Facebook hasn’t even been thought of yet, but their careers, spouses, kids, and status updates are all there.  Every time they change something in their present, something in their futures changes, too.  Aside from the fact that this is such a cool concept, it also causes Emma and Josh to act very differently in order to create the futures they want.  They just don’t know what the unintended consequences will be.

In Ender’s Game, Ender is accepted into Battle School, and his life completely changes.  He is not allowed to see his family again for several years, and he’s going to be trained to be an isolated child warrior.  This moment defines him.

Why are these incidents so important?

  • They give the reader a feeling for the flavor of the book
  • They tell us something about the main character – and if they don’t tell us something about the main character, they should.
  • Most importantly, they kick off the plot of the story.

What are your favorite inciting incidents?  What else is important about this moment at the beginning of the story?

P.S. One of my favorite inciting incidents is the Reaping in The Hunger Games (awesomely plotted, Suzanne Collins!).

P.P.S. Check out my guest post over at The Art Abyss, How Perseverance Helps Creativity Blossom.

5 Everyday Ways to Spark Your Creativity

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Crayon Logs by Chris Metcalf via Wikimedia Commons

Crayon Logs by Chris Metcalf via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes the muse is hanging out on our shoulder, and the words just pour onto the page.  And sometimes, the muse has taken a lunch break … or maybe a long vacation.  How do you spark creativity in those situations?

First of all, let’s define creativity.  Dictionary.com says creativity is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.”  Creativity is not just limited to the arts.  It also has to do with invention and the sciences and the way you live your life every day.  Being more creative in your artistic life can help you innovate in other areas of life as well by expanding the way you think.  So how can we expand or shift the way we think?

(Disclaimer: try not to use these things to put off actually writing)

  1. Change your routine.  It doesn’t have to be something major; it could be as small as going to a different grocery store, taking a new route to work or school, or making a new recipe for dinner.
  2. Read.  If you’re writing, you probably read more than the average person already, but reading new stories almost always gives you a different perspective, at least briefly.  Read in your genre to see what others are writing about.  Read outside your comfort zone in genres you’d never write in – they will have a different feel than the genres you’re comfortable with.  Read nonfiction; I’ve found some of my best inspiration has come from nonfiction that helps me to look at the world in a different way, especially books about how the world works, like Outliers, Freakonomics, and most recently, The New Geography of Jobs (one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in years).  Books on writing are always a great source, too, like Writing Irresistible Kidlit, Save the Cat, and On Writing.
  3. Do something new.  Novelty helps your brain create new neural pathways.  Go on a little adventure – take a class, go to a new restaurant, go on a trip, learn something new.
  4. Journal.  Observe what’s going on around you.  Observing things in detail and/or organizing them into an order of events makes you look at them more closely than you normally would.  Free write in your journal; this is also called stream of consciousness writing.  It acts like a warm up for your brain.  You can set a timer, maybe 5 minutes, and don’t let your pen off the paper (or your fingers off the keyboard) until the timer goes up.  This might result in a little babble, but there may be some gems in there, too.
  5. Change your associations.  Associate with people who have similar goals, who work in the same field; these type of associations foster innovation and creativity (there’s a whole section on this in The New Geography of Jobs that I mentioned above – such a great read!).  This might mean joining a writing group, going to book signings and book festivals, and going to literary events and conferences.  This might mean blogging and visiting blogs of people with similar interests and goals.  You could also read books written by writers, agents, and others in the publishing business (this includes listening to audiobooks in the car – such a great use of traffic time).

How do you spark creativity?  What have I left off this list?

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