Beginnings

Oh hey, it’s 2016! I suppose the start of a new year is as good a time as any to talk about beginnings and endings.

Beginnings

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The intimidating first page. Many writers struggle to conquer it and write the perfect beginning. Sometimes it scares them so much they never start. What to do? How do you write the perfect beginning for your story?

Just do it!

You can never write your story if you never put words on the page. Guess what, you don’t have to write the beginning first! Liberate yourself from the pressure of the perfect beginning and write. If you’re feeling lost for your beginning, you can start anywhere. Get into the story and the awesome beginning scene will come to you.

Even if you think you have the perfect beginning planned out, often times you will reach the mid-point of your story and realize the story really starts in a different place. Some authors advise to always throw out your first chapter and start in chapter two. While I don’t personally advocate that practice, I do advise that you write knowing that anything you put down is expendable and rearrangeable.

Some writers start too soon in their story, some writers start too late. At this point in life I fall in the latter category. I’m always going back and adding stuff to the beginning. In fact, for my current book series, I’m having to go back and write almost an entire book’s worth of new beginning since I skipped over it in my impatience to get to “the good part” (a.k.a. the only part I had figured out). I’m missing out on all sorts of key scenes and important character development. Oops. Outlining ahead of time might have helped me there.

What goes into the beginning?

The main purpose of the beginning is to hook the reader and reel them into the story. You hook them with your first sentence, then spend the next few paragraphs to pages reeling them in. With readers you have a few pages, but with editors you only have a few paragraphs. So, pretty much your story needs to be awesome right from the start and keep building from there.

You need intrigue in the first paragraph, even in the first sentence. Establish that something is unique about your story. Show them the characters, setting, and conflict. You don’t have to introduce your main character at the start, but don’t stay away from them too long.

Beginnings build a sense of the story’s tone.

A good idea for learning about beginnings is to pick up good books and read the first few paragraphs and pages. Take notes. What does the author do? What catches your attention? What about it makes you want to keep reading?

Tip: One way to decide where to start is to ask yourself what is the most interesting scene to start with, and who has the best view of it? (It doesn’t have to be the protagonist.)

What NOT to do.

Do not start with a weather report. 99.9% of manuscripts starting with weather reports go straight into the trash at the slush pile because they are overdone. The 0.1% that don’t are astounding works of word art, and are probably written by already well established authors who can get away with things.

Don’t start with a report of the character waking up and their regular morning routine. It’s boring. The only reason to start with a morning routine is if something is different right off the bat.

Don’t start with dreams. Editors don’t like it, and it is also overdone. Only rare exceptions make it through the slush pile.

Don’t start at the protagonist’s birth unless something about it is unique, like in Natalie Whipple’s Transparent where the doctor drops the baby because she’s invisible.

DO NOT start with a bored character. Bored character equals bored reader. We don’t want them bored at the start. We want to hook them and get them interested. It’s hard to be interested in boredom.

Prologues, yay or nay?

Prologues are really a personal preference thing.

Prologues can either hurt or help. If they add to the story, then they help. If they bog things down right from the start, then they hurt. Some people skip reading prologues. Some people read them. If the information given in the prologue is important to the story, then you can just make it your first chapter. If it’s not important, but gives some cool insights on the world or characters you can leave it as a prologue. However, that cool stuff can probably be worked into the actual story as well.

Prologues should be SHORT. Readers want to get to the meat of the story as fast as possible. Don’t slow them down more than necessary.

Don’t waste time or characters to sacrifice just to show that there’s a monster in the story.  Well, you can do it, but be aware that it’s cliche. If you do, I advise making it key to the plot.

Don’t use the prologue as an info-dump. Any information about the world or backstory important to the story should be worked into the actual story itself. Anything extra you want to share can go in an appendix or on your author blog/online community you build for your special little tribe of readers. J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling are good examples.

So there you have it.

I hope this helps you with your challenge of writing the beginnings in your stories. They aren’t easy, and there’s no one right way to write them, but I know you can do it.

Now go forth and write!
Your Writing Senpai

Much of this post came from what I learned from:
LTUE 2015 panel with J. Scott Savage & Larry Correia
Carol Lynch Williams
Writing Excuses

Words to Avoid and Why (a.k.a. Newbie Writing Mistakes #1)

Hello everybody! Today I would like to speak to you about words, specifically words you should avoid while writing your stories. You might ask why should you avoid certain words? Isn’t writing a form of self-expression? Isn’t there no one right way to write? While that’s true, there is no one right way to write, there are tons of weak ways to write. One guaranteed way to strengthen your writing is to apply the $1 per word analogy I learned from Carol Lynch Williams.

The $1 per word analogy.

First, let’s pretend you’ve been given $80,000 to write a novel. Yay!

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Just look at all that money!

However, there’s a catch. You have to spend that money on writing the story, and each word costs $1. If you go over then the money for the extra words comes out of your pocket, but if you stay under then you can save the money for future stories. In that case you’d want to choose your words carefully, right?

I would.

Don’t worry, the payment for the words doesn’t come until you start submitting to agents and editors, so you have time to trim down and strengthen your novel in every draft.

However, you can save yourself some future effort if you avoid certain words from the start. These are the weak ones that hinder your story and keep it from breathing. The ones that make agents and editors look at your story and say:

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And then proceed to drop you off the building and never give you a second thought.

So what are these words? Okay, okay, I’ll tell you.

Chief words to avoid.

They are (drumroll): “ly” adverbs, be verbs, be-ing phrases, begin/start, that, just, finally, creative dialogue tags, and unnecessary repetition. (This list subject to grow as more words come to my attention.)

Let’s go through them and discuss why.

“ly” Adverbs

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Credit:  Logophilius Editorial LLC You can go read their article about adverbs as well.

You know what they are, those conditioning words people like to stick by their verbs. There are three kinds of “ly” adverbs: defining, affirming, and expounding. The first two are bad, and the third is iffy.

  1. Defining adverbs. This is where the writer chooses a weak verb and then needs to further explain the action taking place. Examples: walked quickly and looked lovingly. You can replace all of these with strong verbs like “sprinted” and “gazed.” Save your dollars by exchanging these weak two-word verbs for strong single ones.
  2. Affirming adverb. These are redundant adverbs since they repeat something inherent in the connotation of the verb. Examples: dodged nimbly, trudged slowly, angrily stormed. One must be nimble to dodge, trudging is a slow action, and is there really any other way to storm than with anger? Don’t spend your dollars on redundancy.
  3. Expounding adverbs. These are where the adverb adds to an already strong, or at least not-weak, verb. They give details that aren’t inherent in the verbs meaning. Examples: inhaled deeply, groaned loudly, changed quickly. As they stand these phrases are concise and precise. They are okay, and can be left as-is in your manuscript. However, they lack punch or emotion. They’re uninteresting. That’s what makes them weak. Strengthening sentences with expounding adverbs is one exception to the $1 per word trimming method. There’s no way to make them better, other than losing the adverb and the tiny detail it gives, without adding words. These are good places to put similes and metaphors to liven up your writing.

Now, you might be asking, “But, Senpai, if the third type is okay and we’re trying to save our dollars, why would we add metaphors?” Well, it’s more about choosing the best way to spend your dollars and not just being cheap. Better ingredients cost more, but make a better tasting cake. It’s worth it to spend a little more in some places as long as you make sure what you add to the story is strong and pushes everything forward.

“But Senpai, I like adverbs! They’re part of my voice!” That’s okay, as long as you use them sparingly. Certain genres are more forgiving of adverbs than others. Do your research to make sure your use of adverbs fits the genre you’re writing for. However, your writing will become stronger if you trim them out. Practice writing without them first. Then, if you still desire to use them after you have that down, you can introduce them back in a way that won’t hinder your story.

Be Verbs

Am, is, are, was and were, be, being, been.

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They’re dull and lack any depth, emotion, or impetus to move the story forward. They’re passive voice. Be verbs tell instead of show, which readers frown upon in most cases. You can replace ninety percent of be verbs with action verbs.

Also, see the “Unnecessary Repetition” section below.

Be-ing Phrases

He was chasing tadpoles. She had been reading all afternoon. Gregory was laughing so hard that milk came out his nose.

Be-ing phrases can ALWAYS be replaced with a single-word action verb.

He chased tadpoles. She had read all afternoon. Gregory laughed so hard that milk came out his nose.

They cost you $2 where you should be paying one. Also, be-ing phrases distance the subject and reader from the action taking place. They are never necessary. Avoid them like the plague.

Began/Start

This is another thing I learned from Carol Lynch Williams. Adding any form of “began” or “start” before an action distances the character from the action, is passive, and slows the story down. Let your character get to the action. Don’t distance them from it. Don’t use “began” or “start” for any action done by your protagonist.

This doesn’t mean you never use them in other ways, but you shouldn’t use them in the immediate moment of the story. Examples of okay use are “When the war started,” or “I knew something was up when Jane started acting out.” Note that these either reference things in the past or a character other than the protagonist.

That

It’s a filler word for the most part. It is needed, but not near as much as you think. Write without it and then put it back in where needed.

Just

“Just” is an overused expounding adverb. It’s often unnecessary. You can make the argument that “just” helps add a degree of meaning, and that is true. Sometimes using “just” will add to your sentence/story, but only if you use it sparingly so it retains some punch. Use it all the time and it becomes meaningless.

Finally

True, “finally” is an adverb and I’ve already addressed those. However, I feel that “finally” is a special word that deserves proper attention and respect. There is a sense of relief and comfort that comes from this word. It’s actually a very strong word and I do believe it should be used AT THE END of a story, and then maybe just once.

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“Finally” is a power word. Overusing it cheapens the impact it should have, so save it for the end when the emotions and consequences are highest and it can have the most influence.

Creative Dialogue Tags

Remember how your high school teachers taught you that you should get creative with your dialogue tags? People don’t just “say” things. They shout, gripe, postulate, roar, insinuate, and all sorts of other things, right? They claimed that using “said” was boring and uncreative.
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Your high school teachers were wrong.

Creative dialogue tags pull your reader out of the story and force them to reimagine what just happened. “Said” blends in and is near invisible, the reader’s eye skims over it and they stay in the story. Or you can attribute dialogue to characters by association to action. Readers will connect the latest action to the following dialogue. That’s the truly invisible dialogue tag.

Creative dialogue tags are also redundant if you’re writing right. The action and description of the scene around the dialogue should already let the reader know what kind of intonation and volume the characters are using. There’s no need to be redundant and state the tone and volume again with a dialogue tag.

You are allowed to use “whisper” and I’d say maybe “scream,” SPARINGLY, but I recommend using them as action association instead of as tags.

Unnecessary Repetition

Avoid repetition on the page. Having too many of a type of spelling or word on a page, especially when they’re close together, trips up the reader and slows the story down. This applies to all words.

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For example, I told you in the previous section to stick to “said” instead of a variety of dialogue tags. When there’s a lot of dialogue and you’re only using dialogue tags, then there will be a lot of “saids” on the page. “Said” becomes a little less invisible when there’s a lot of it. That’s one reason why it’s important to use action association with dialogue. Mix it up a little.

Avoid using the same words multiple times in close sentences. For example, you don’t want to end two sentences in a row with the same word. The start of sentences is more forgiving, but it’s also best to avoid starting two sentences with the same word. The same applies to the subjects and verbs of the sentences, not just their starting or ending words. This is another reason to avoid be verbs. If you rely on be verbs, then you’re going to have a ton of the same word in a paragraph. It’s boring and slows down the reading experience.

You can use repetition for poetic or symbolic reasons, but again, this should be done sparingly and only after you’ve learned how to play within the rules.

Parting words on the subject.

Applying the $1 per word analogy and avoiding these particular words in your writing will strengthen your skills as a writer. However:

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Learn these principles, apply them, then find your own voice and build on it. Once you know how to write well you can break the rules in masterful ways, BUT not until you’ve mastered writing within the “rules.” Even after that you still need to follow the guidelines to make sure your writing doesn’t fall apart and your diversions from it can shine.

Now go forth and write!

Love,
Your Writing Senpai

Writing Notes #4 – LTUE & Writing Excuses – What Makes Good YA

Some of this comes from LTUE and some of it comes from the Writing Excuses podcast Season 2 Episode 2 “Writing for Children with Brandon Mull.”

What is YA?

First of all, let’s define what exactly the YA genre is.  It overlaps with Middle Grade and New Adult (which is a new genre working on blooming at the moment).  The main thing that determines which of these genres your story fits will be the age of your protagonist.  For YA it can range from 14-18.  New adult targets the ages 18-30.  But what about 12 & 13, you might ask, aren’t they teens also? Well, they’re middle grade. (And actually, 13 is a tricky age publishers hate and work hard to avoid, so it’s just best to make your protagonist 12 or 14 most of the time.) An easy way to break it down is that middle school is middle grade, and high school is YA.  Anything after high school is probably New Adult.

YA can then be further sub-divided into the genres you see in adult fiction. Examples: romance, science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, and so on. In adult fiction these genres have strict rules to divide them, but in YA these rules become blurred and sometimes non-existent. YA is a very fluid, plastic genre where anything goes.

So, really the only key to writing good YA is to know how to write a good story tailored to your audience. That brings up the question:

How do you tailor a story to a teenage audience?

I have some tips and things for you to remember that should help with that.

1. DON’T BE PREACHY.

I know you might want to teach teenagers and young adults important life lessons, but nobody wants to be lectured or preached to, especially teenagers.  We go to church and school for that.  That’s not usually why we read.

Remember WHY kids read.  YA is the genre where the readers start choosing the stories for themselves instead of having the stories handed to them by their parents.  They will put your book down if it doesn’t satisfy their needs and desires for reading.  Personally, I read and write to have fun, to feel emotion, and to be moved by something deep.  Other people read to escape harsh reality, have a laugh, experience romance, or one of many other reasons.  None of those reasons include getting preached to.

However, that doesn’t mean your story can’t teach a lesson.  It does mean that when you teach a lesson it has to be deep in the story as a guiding theme.  Be subtle.  Show and don’t tell.  Let it be a natural part of the story, more like a side-effect than the main purpose.  They’ll get it and appreciate you not rubbing it in their face.

2. Make the characters memorable.

What makes a memorable character? Don’t worry. I’ll write a post entirely on that and link to it here when I do.

3. It doesn’t have to have a romantic subplot.

Really, it doesn’t. There’s more to life than romance and sex, and some people don’t even have that on their radar. They don’t care and don’t want to read about it.

The world is already bursting with stories about sex. We could use more stories about different things.

4. How important is family?

It depends on if it adds conflict. Ever wondered why so many protagonists are orphans? Well, if those protagonists had happy safe family lives at home they might not have ever left on whatever epic quest their story took them on. Harry Potter wouldn’t have ever needed to face Lord Voldemort if his parents hadn’t died. Simba would have happily grown up a spoiled child at pride rock if Scar hadn’t killed Mufasa. Think of some other stories about orphans or children with one parent. If they had a complete happy family, would their story ever happen? Probably not.

Every aspect of a story needs to add conflict and push the plot forward. Most often a happy home life doesn’t do that. An unhappy home life, however, does. Families can be an important part of the main character’s conflict. If having a family will make the protagonist’s journey more difficult, then by all means add one in! Dealing with family can be an entire story or character arc of it’s own. There’s no need to avoid letting your main character have a family as long as it doesn’t detract from the story. If it does, get rid of it or change it until it helps instead of hinders.

5. Teenagers can carry the world on their shoulders.

YA needs to deal with problems that affect young adults, but young adults deal with a lot. Their external issues  can be anything from battling inter-dimensional space dragons to save the world, being a teen parent or oldest sibling who has to take care of their family, to taking out the non-metaphorical trash. Some teens deal with “normal” teen issues, while others have to be adults before their time. The important thing to remember is that while their external issues might be the same as an adult’s, they will be dealing with them with the mind of a teenager. Their internal issues need to match their metal age. Even mature teens are still teens.

This doesn’t mean you downplay their mental reasoning or maturity. Teenagers see themselves as grown up and mature, so treat your character that way. I liked the way Bryce Moore put it while speaking in the LTUE panel:  “However old you are is the oldest you’ve ever been, so you’re mature, dang it!”

6. Diversity is cool! (Except for when it isn’t.)

Diversity helps make your story more interesting and unique. By adding diversity you broaden your own mind view as well as the view of your audience and make the world a better place. At least, that’s the theory. If abused and used when it shouldn’t be then diversity becomes a gimmick and fails to benefit your story.

So don’t treat diversity like vegetables in a meal. You know what I mean, with that “I have to eat them because they’re healthy” attitude so you stick them in everything.

Just because diversity is cool and something people are pushing for doesn’t mean you have to add it to your story. Don’t force it if it isn’t right. You don’t have to add a multicultural character just because it’s what’s expected. That does your story and people of other cultures or backgrounds an injustice. For example, I have a story based in Colorado. There are almost no people of color there, so adding in a black person just for the sake of diversity would be wrong. It would go against the setting. (And hey, it’s already got werewolves and other magic beasts. Do I really need to add anything?) However, in my sci-fi story based in a futuristic space station game center, making everyone white would be wrong. That setting requires a large diversity of cultures, skin-types, and species (like aliens!).

Diversity in your story can be subtle or complex and up-front. Find things that are different and cool about the location and culture of the area and make them an integral fun part of the book. If diversity will add to your story, then great! If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it.

That doesn’t mean you should just shrug diversity off and never worry about it. Seriously consider diversity for your story and whether or not it will work. If you want to make your story more diverse, but don’t see a way to with your setting then ask yourself what you can change. Would a change of location help? Maybe instead of basing your story in bleached white no-name USA, you could take it to New Orleans, Chicago, Cuba, or even Canada. Or you could change the time period. You could even change the race of your main character (which might require a location change). There’s a multitude of ways to add diversity.

Just make sure to thoroughly research whatever type of diversity you’re putting into your story. You don’t want to make/encourage stereotypes. That defeats the purpose. If you’re going to have diversity in your story, then do it justice.

Also, secondary world fantasy is a cool, growing genre to consider. What’s that? Well, it’s fantasy based on cultures other than the standard western medieval ages. A good example is Drift by M. K. Hutchins. Personally, I love stories like this and want to read more. I will write at least one someday.

And that’s it!

So there you have it. Six things to remember to help yourself tailor your story to a teen audience. Now go forth and write!

-Writing Senpai

Writing with Goals

Hi! Long time no see. 😛 I took on a freelance visual effects job recently that I thought would last for two weeks and then stretched out to almost six months. It ate my time. Sorry for the absence, but I’m back now!

And I wish to return with a word or two about writing with goals. Sure, all these tips and advice are great help, but they won’t do you any good without a goal, a SMART goal. What is a SMART goal, you might ask? Well, it’s a goal that works because it’s: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

Goals like, “I’m going to write a book!” are great and all, but in order to achieve them they need to be broken down into SMART goals, like NaNoWriMo’s “Write 50,000 words in 30 days.” That fits all the requirements. Fifty thousand words in a month is a very big goal, though, one I don’t recommend doing on a regular basis, but 20-30 thousand might be more doable.

You might be saying, “Well yes, Senpai, writing 20k words a month sounds like a good goal, but what about all the other aspects of writing a story?” All aspects of writing a novel, comic, or other type of story can be broken down into SMART goals to help you keep moving forward. You can plot out your story to a pre-made structure or method in a month, or develop a character a day. If you’re not a word-count kind of person you could write a scene per week, or decide on a time minimum to write every day.

Not only do SMART goals help you move forward, they give you something to look forward to accomplishing. Once you achieve your goal you can take a moment to celebrate before moving on to the next SMART goal. Don’t party for too long, though. Once you get your novel written there’s revision, querying agents, and other things you can make SMART goals for to help you achieve that nebulous goal of getting published!

My friend Whitney recently wrote about how she’s using SMART goals to help herself in her writing.

Go, write, win!

Your Writing Senpai

Writing Notes #3 – LTUE – Tips for Writing Fantasy (& Writing in General)

This past weekend I went to LTUE (Life, The Universe, and Everything) a writing conference in Provo, Utah.  I went to many helpful panels and took lots of notes.  I plan to share them all with you!  First off, some notes on writing fantasy:

Why fantasy?  Because it’s cooler.  Because dragons.  (That was one guy’s go-to answer for everything.)  Because it’s a safe place to explore things that are touchy in real life.  It lets you see the interior of a character better than most other genres.

How do you avoid tropes?  It’s all about execution because there are no original ideas.  You can’t avoid tropes.  Just write the best story ever.  Write the best trope ever.  Romance publishers look for specific tropes, so depending on your genre tropes are a good thing.

My own thoughts – Personally, I don’t even bother worrying about tropes.  I focus on making amazing characters and staying true to them.  Everything else will follow.  Forget about tropes.  Go forth and be free!

Things not to do?  Don’t do something convenient, like deus ex machina.  Need to have a smart way to figure things out.  Don’t start too big and overwhelm yourself.

Things to do?  You can write a short story or a stand alone to develop your skills.  When getting advice use your own filter and take away the stuff from others that will work for you.  Always keep something with you to write in so you can keep track of you ideas and never forget them.  Start working.  Sit down and do it.

Writing Notes #2 – FanX 2015 – Your Health as a Writer and the Future of YA Writing

I went to a couple writing panels the other weekend when I attended Salt Lake Comic Con Fan-Experience.  I figured I’d share my notes with you on two panels that I found helpful.  🙂

Writing and Your Health

As writers, sometimes out health goes out the window as we focus on our next big story or editing or sending queries to agents.  This can have big bad consequences which can affect us physically and mentally and hurt our writing.  It’s important to stay in good health so your writing career can move forward without obstruction from your body.

Let’s start out discussing the physical aspect of health:

Sitting for too long is bad for your back and causes back pain.  Get up from the chair and move around every fifteen minutes or so.  Give yourself a break from sitting and keep yourself moving.  You can sprinkle household chores throughout the day to help with this if you’d like.  Use a timer or reminders or something to establish the habit if you need.

Be proactive about your health.  Eat right, rest adequately, and be physical.  Remember to use moderation.  The saying “no pain no gain is false.”  You can gain a lot and stay healthy by moving around without hurting yourself.  Find something that’s fun for you, like rock climbing or something.  Personally, I’m learning H.E.M.A. (Historical European Martial Arts) focusing on the longsword.  It’s super cool and is research for one of the book series I plan to write.

All the writers on the panel strongly recommended walking, at least one thirty-minute walk every day.  It’s great for clearing your head and giving you time to think without distraction.  Also, some of them love to dictate their stories while they walk.  They recommended Dragon as a good dictation/transcription program.

Also, STRETCH!  Stretch our your back and your arms to avoid back pain and carpel tunnel.  Learn the proper stretches and use them on a daily basis.  Ric Meyers recommends Peng Shui to take care of your body and mind.

Now the mental aspect:

Cheree Alsop told us about how writers use up their dopamine faster.  Creativity wears the brain out, so take care of it.  Some foods you can eat to reboot your dopamine levels are: pumpkin seeds, dark colored fruits and vegetables, bananas, almonds, and sesame seeds. Exercise helps as well.

You can’t read other people’s minds, but you can read your own.  Read it and go deep.  Learn to identify your emotions and how/why your behaving. Understand yourself, that way you can know what to do to take care of yourself.

Embrace what’s unique about you and be excited about what you do.  That way you can be happy in life.  Keep a realistic positive outlook.  Love yourself.  Collaborate with yourself.  Be your best critic and your best editor.  You are the best help to yourself that you can ever have.

And as a cool side note, Ric Meyers told us that Kung Fu means “Human achievement.”  So basically, Kung Fu is all about improving yourself and becoming a better human being, not just a martial art for beating people up.

Future of YA Writing

YA is big and booming, so you have to make sure you get yourself out there and build yourself a tribe of followers.  You know you’ve made it when a group of followers give themselves a name and become your tribe.  Social media is key to this.  Blog, Tweet, etc., do everything and network.  You need to start marketing now, before you’re done writing.  This way you can build your reader base and get a head start before you’re even published.

It’s important to have a website where your fans can get information.  Even better, have a website that gets updated with something on a regular basis so that they know you’re still alive and care about them.  Having a word-count tracker can be cool so that they can see you’re making progress.

Start an email list and send out emails. EMAIL MARKETING IS SUPER IMPORTANT.  Your reader base will die without it.  Let people know what’s happening and update them about your work.  They need to know when something new of yours is coming out so they can read and buy it.  This is a bit trickier when you’re writing for children, so get the parent’s emails.

The YA market is the market where the readers start choosing to read the books themselves instead of being given the books by their parents or teachers.

Also, when dealing with kids, you have to protect them from other people trying to abuse the tribe.  Police your social media and forums and make sure people stay appropriate to keep it safe for your young audience.

I hope these notes are helpful to you!  I know I need to start practicing everything I learned from them.

-Writing Senpai

Description Part 3 – The Senses

Now to discuss the senses.  We human being have five of them: sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound.  Most of us are more visually based, so we often see things described that way.  That’s fine, but if we want to make our description rich and unique we need to remember to use the other senses.  More senses give us more chances to use specific details that can liven up the story and voice.

For example, at one point in Inkheart, Mo describes the moment when he read some characters out of a book and into the real world.

Her father looked at her.  “They came out,” he said.  “There they were, all of a sudden, standing in the doorway to the corridor outside the room, as if they’d just come in from outdoors.  There was a crackling noise when they turned to us–like someone slowly unfolding a piece of paper.

I’d like for you to note that last detail, the sound of the characters moving, “like someone slowly unfolding a piece of paper.”  Funke took a plain sound and a plain movement and combined them into an interesting description.  You don’t expect people to sound like paper when they move, but here we have characters coming out of a book not yet fully in our world.  Of course they sound like paper.  It makes for a much more satisfying description than just, “they turned and looked at us.”

So think about the other senses while you’re describing things.  Does the wind taste like dust?  Does the ground feel like Jello? Can the characters hear the cicadas in the trees or children laughing?  Do they choke on the sharp scent of vinegar?  All these sensory details build a world for your character to live in, and help the reader feel like they’re really there in the story.  They make the place real.

Referencing from Description by Monica Wood and Inkheart by Cornelia Funke