Posts tagged ‘writing’

April 26th, 2011

I was born in 1995

by Madeleine Rex

I am not under the impression that any of you are creating a timeline of my life or writing a paper on me. My purpose in stating the year I was born is to remind you that I am the teenager of today. Going to high school five days of the week, talking with and texting teenagers, and drowning in the glory of overactive hormones and a swarm of young people with the worries/sense of invincibility/insecurities we read about makes me an insider.

I know that adults are constantly saying things along the lines of, “I remember when I was your age…” but that’s not all that’s required to write a young adult novel. You might remember an event or experience, but you, admittedly, did not experience it in 2010 or 2009. Prom in 1988 is different than prom now, despite the fact that the major characteristics are the same.

Miranda Kenneally, who is still young, once asked me what kids my age call a record store. And I said, “Um… a record store?” When I read a draft of one of her books, though, I came across an instant in which the main character mentions seeing someone’s underwear. My eyes bugged out of my head for a moment before I realized she meant undershirt.

I can promise anyone my age would have spit their Sprite all over that page if they’d read that the main character could see the guy’s underwear while he was leaning against his locker. And the reader probably would have blushed, too.

There are little differences between generations. Even those minor differences can help loads when it comes to making stories and characters easily relatable to the audience (people my age). Sarah Enni posted about this last week, and made many great points. I commented and left a short list of things that have struck me as slightly off or outdated and a few things that I think many people would assume were before my generation but are actually talked about. Here’s the comment:

You’re pretty much spot-on, although I think a lot of people my age have a hazy remembrance of 9/11. I remember walking into the living room on the morning before my second day of kindergarten and finding my mother standing in front of the TV, eyes glued to a building going down. I think lots of people my age feel some sort of connection to it (though I could be wrong). Also: We watched the version of Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio in it, and girls *were* drooling. One person people bring up all the time is Justin Timberlake, but I hear practically nothing about him. 😀

There are a few things I see in books that don’t strike true (and sometimes my adult friends will come to me with questions as they write, trying to verify). For example:

1. We (meaning the people I talk to at MY high school) don’t say “cell”. Often, we don’t even say “cell phone”, unless we’re asking if someone has one or what we’re saying could truly mistakenly be applied to a home phone. Most of the time we just call it “phone”.

2. There are names that creep up in a lot of YA books these days that I hardly ever hear. It’d be hard to list all of them, but there are many.

3. People do talk about politics. And the economy. They tend to sound like they’re regurgitating their parents views (and they are often pretty liberal, at least here). However, people get really worked up over it. Even in middle school during the last election, Obama’s face and name were *everywhere*.

4. OJ is still brought up occasionally. Michael Jackson is still brought up all the time. And almost everyone’s seen Titanic at least once.

5. We sometimes mention Blue’s Clues. And Elmo. And The Cookie Monster.

6. We don’t wear skirts over jeans. Ever.

7. Don’t forget Jamba Juice! It’s not all Starbucks.

I realize that these details might seem insignificant, but they’re the ones that stand out to me as I read. Particularly the overuse of “cells” and the occasional character who wears skirts over jeans. I never see that.

Although I understand that particular characters are unique and might break a generalized rule, I wanted to make the point that the details do not go unnoticed by the target audience. It’s like being ripped out of a dreamworld when the reader comes across something that feels off. Suddenly, we’re distanced from the situation or character, simply because we’ve remembered that what we’re reading is fiction. It’s our job as writers to sustain the illusion.

March 15th, 2011

Hooked by Les Edgerton; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One And Never Lets Them Go

Author: Les Edgerton

Published: April 12, 2007 by Writer’s Digest Books

Number of Pages: 256

Rating: 4/5

Quote:

Breaking rules doesn’t make one original – pick out any juvenile delinquent loitering on the street corner and you’ll see what I mean. Working within the rules and delivering original and creative stories is what makes one original.

And successful.

Synopsis:

Agents and editors agree: Improper story beginnings are the single biggest barrier to publication. Why? If a novel or short story has a bad beginning, then no one will keep reading. It’s just that simple. Hooked provides readers with a detailed understanding of what a beginning must include (setup, backstory, the inciting incident, etc.); instruction on how to successfully develop the story problem; tips on how to correct common beginning mistakes; exclusive insider advice from agents, acquiring book editors, and literary journal editors; and much more. [From Goodreads]

Review:

I picked up Hooked when I was on a writing-related-books rampage at Borders a few months ago. Among the others I chose to buy that day, Hooked , with its less, well, boring cover and Edgerton’s humorous, lighthearted voice, stood apart.

Writing good (not decent or standard or acceptable) beginnings was something I’d been thinking about. I know that I judge every book’s first sentence (and often the first paragraph) critically. Hand me something like Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry, and I won’t be able to resist buying and finishing the book, even if the first page is the best part in the entire thing.

I wanted a beginning like that. The sort of hook that readers wouldn’t snap at, nibble, or bite, but one they’d swallow. And that’s precisely what Hooked‘s all about.

Edgerton immediately dives into listing the basic components of a good beginning (and how they’ve evolved, particularly over the last 150 years), such as the inciting incident, story-worthy-problem, surface problem, etcetera. He makes a point of addressing the alpha and omega of misused story components, backstory and setup.

He does a fantastic job of highlighting the pros and cons of every aspect of a beginning. Arguably, there are advantages to every facet of a story, but whether their disadvantages outweigh them is the determiner. At no point does he call an approach stupid or an idea ridiculous, but instead warns against the dangers of particular ways of approaching things.

It’s not a secret that I struggle getting through nonfiction, though I do gravitate toward those with the topic of writing. While Hooked is, sadly, definitely nonfiction, Edgerton’s voice and style were exactly what the book needed to make it not only informative but genuinely interesting. He continually approached things with a lighthearted tone. I felt that he was offering advice or lending a hand as opposed to instructing or preaching. The fact that he could transform a potentially dry piece of material into something interesting proved that he can, indeed, write, which made learning from him all the more enjoyable. I had faith that I was in the hands of someone who knows what he’s talking about.

I’ve learned loads from this book and found answers to particular questions of mine in regard to The Lemonites. Edgerton repeatedly stressed the necessity of the writer having a concise idea of the protagonist’s story-worthy problem – the problem that encapsulates the whole of the story or the underlying issue that is really within the character and is not resolved until the very, very end. As my friend Miranda Kenneally can testify, this is a concept I’ve been struggling with every since I started thinking seriously about The Lemonites and what it needs to become great. The examples and guidance Edgerton supplies have helped me wrap my mind around the idea and continue to craft Pepto’s character into the sort that has a story-worthy problem that can actually carry the story to the end.

The aforementioned examples were my very, very favorite aspect of Hooked. There were multiple examples from actual written work for just about everything! I loved learning about a concept and then immediately seeing it at work. It allowed me to keep the idea in the back of my mind while reading the excerpt so that I could identify where it came into play and its effect on me. I know this is the second time I’ve brought her up, but Miranda does the same thing when I come to her with a problem or we’re in the middle of a conversation on writing. Using examples from written work and assessing a technique’s effectiveness was the best way for me to learn. It was this part of the book that made it a truly valuable experience for me.

Essentially, Hooked is a remarkably enjoyable book with a great author’s voice that manages to be hugely informative and inspiring.

February 14th, 2011

Sometimes You Feel Inadequate

by Madeleine Rex

In case you were unaware of this fact, it’s true.

Sometimes. Occasionally. Every now and then. You feel inadequate.

Goodness knows it’s natural. Ask your neighbor, your coworkers, heck – it’s likely your dog has felt inadequate at some point in time.

I have. She has. They have. We have.

And yet, with this mindbogglingly stressful weight of inadequacy on our shoulders – even worst: the possibility that you will somehow be proven insignificant, unremarkable, horrifically replaceable – we keep trying. We are beaten down by self-doubt and ridicule and imaginary ridicule. I’ve been haunted in my dreams by this ever-present feeling of hopelessness. Every day:

There’s that blog with 200 more followers than I have!

Holy crap, [insert amazingly popular author here] just commented on [insert amazingly lucky blogger here]’s post!

OH MY STINKING GOSH, HER BOOK’S GETTING PUBLISHED!

Amidst all this, we must and do find a way to trudge along. I find myself thinking this over. What is it that’s necessary to keep all this insanity from breaching the security of our psyche and polluting us – what keeps us from plunging into the deep, dark, treacherous caves of despair?

It’s the way we digest things.

You can either look at that popular blogger’s follower count and actually, physically cringe, or you can allow that monstrously intimidating number to inspire you. You can process that boiling envy into something useful and powerful.

Motivation.

Instead of indulging hate for that blogger (who probably felt inadequate 20 minutes ago and will in another 45), or that unavoidable and TOTALLY UNHELPFUL feeling we call jealousy, we can recycle our envy and create progress. No more moping and no more watching the computer screen and hitting the refresh button just in case their follower number increases from 821 to 103,728,485 in the next two seconds (not that I’ve ever done that). Give yourself an alternative: Write another gosh darned blog post.

There’s only one way to make change, and that is to move. Consume, digest, and do something with what’s left. Take those feelings of inadequacy and mutilate them until they are feelings of promise, of potential, of if-they-can-do-that-maybe-I-can-too.

We’ve done it before. We wouldn’t have telephones or iPads or microwaves if people had not transformed useless self-doubt into useful motivation. Bill Gates would be living with his parents in an RV somewhere in Colorado if people didn’t have the ability to recycle their emotions.

If you cannot reduce, then at the very least, reuse and recycle.

In ten minutes, when your friend emails to tell you that an agent requested a partial… In twenty minutes, when you stumble upon that singularly popular blog with 103,728,485 followers… Move your curser to the red “X” in the corner, click it, and open a Word document.