YA Romance Reviews

Read Like a Writer: EVERY DAY by David Levithan

If you are writing YA fiction, you need to read this book.

every dayEvery Day is a perfect example of how a powerful concept can drive the plot.  “A,” is a sixteen-year-old consciousness that changes bodies every day.  I’ll defer to the pronoun “he” to describe A, though lack of a consistent body means A has no permanent gender.  He also has no permanent race, religion, etc.–a concept which allows Levithan to test the parameters by which we define ourselves.

Teenagers are people at a very unique point in their lives as they are working to define exactly who they are.  That makes the concept of A all the more powerful—this teenager who defines himself not by the above mentioned categories but by his own moral code.  He tries as much as possible not to disturb the lives of the teenagers whose bodies he’s borrowing, but in doing so, he sacrifices his own ability to “find himself.”  His character can have no arc—no development and, as a result, no life.

That is…until he falls in love.  A meets Rhiannon, an aptly named girl who exhibits the same open, excepting qualities he values in himself.  And of course it doesn’t hurt that she has the same taste in music.  She takes him out of his comfort zone because–suddenly–he wants nothing more than to see this same person every day.  This is regardless of what body he happens to be wearing.  He wants, against all odds, to develop a relationship with this girl—a happenstance that will, in turn, develop A as a character.

Writers, this is how to do it.  Begin with a strong concept that challenges genre, structure, archetypes, etc. and built around it.  Levithan’s book is not just about an unlikely romance.  It’s not just about a kid with an unwanted power, and it isn’t just about the unique challenges and choices faced by teenagers.  It’s all of the above and more.  It’s the incredibly powerful intersection of those things and the conclusions Levithan comes to when playing with those narrative layers.  It’s art as art is meant to be—a mirror to life.

This book is an excellent read for any YA writer because its high concept mechanism challenges the genre, but that’s not the only reason you should pick up this book.

A side effect of A constantly being thrown into a new body is Levithan’s need to quickly and vividly paint new characters.  Granted, some of these characters are walking stereotypes, ostensibly created so that A can mentally berate them for their behavior, but for the most part, this book is an excellent study on how to introduce a character and show a measure of depth with only a few lines.

Levithan also strives to show many different teenagers facing a range of problems from normal teenage woes to incredible strife.  This makes the book an interesting read for those of us who have a tendency to write the same characters over and over.  Perhaps, like A, you will fall in love with this book, and it will draw you out of your comfort zone.  You will keep coming back, each time discovering more possibilities that will add realism to your writing.  Perhaps you will finally develop. 🙂

Michelle Joyce Bond

photo credit and author site: www.davidlevithan.com

Writing

Mission: Annoy Everyone By Reading Like a Writer

imagePeople who read like writers add layers of complexity to their understanding of written work.  We reverse engineer novels, trying to figure out exactly how an author put it all together.  This is in addition to normal regiment of deconstruction we usually apply to books, picking out theme, structure, figurative language, characterization, conflict, etc.

Why do we do it?  It’s…well, it’s fun!  Narratives are like abstract puzzles.  In my mind, they’re meant to be taken apart and their pieces examined to see how they both echo and add up to the larger whole.

I wonder about the process of a writer. How did this masterpiece (or pile of mush) I’m reading come to be? How can studying the choices the writer made help me improve my own writing?

When you read like a writer, you annoy the people around you by over-analyzing everything.  This is part of the fun…and boy am I going to have a lot of fun with you.

So here I present a new mission I’m adding to my blog: to deconstruct good YA paranormal books, focusing on what writers can learn from them.

My job and hobby make it difficult to find time to read, but I aim to get in as many quality books as I can.  Now, I need your help!

Have you read any YA paranormal books (preferably romance) that will blow my mind and keep me up all night thinking?  I’m looking for books that are well-written exemplars for writers to use as a model for their own craft.

Hit me with some good books!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

First Draft Manuscript Goes Up In a Glorious Blaze

imageYesterday, I dumped 16,000 words of my latest WIP in my never-to-return folder and started over again.  Did the writing suck?  I like to think not, but I’d gotten to the point that I could see a better way to write the book.  When this happens, dump the old manuscript and start over from scratch.  You will thank yourself.

Really, 16,000 words isn’t a big deal. I’ve rewritten entire books (one of them twice).  This time, it came to me that I could strengthen the entire story if I changed the basic make-up of my antagonist.

“What?” you say.  “You’re changing the entire story to work around your antagonist?” Well…yeah.  As a serial revisionist, I make changes to my manuscripts all the time, but there was no way to work around something this big.  Here are the reasons:

  1. My characters’ actions are married to the plot—antagonists included.  If the antagonist does something differently or is a different person altogether, the plot must change.
  2. The major antagonist’s traits echo the protagonist in some ways (personal preference), so when he changes, she must change.
  3. If the protagonist changes in her desires and actions—even small shifts—the plot is directly affected in fundamental ways.

I know I don’t have to do the above—that my characters’ basic make-up and the plot do not need to be so closely connected…but I can’t help myself.  I am not a writer who sits down and speedily bangs out a book (though instinct and discovery writing definitely have their place in the drafting process).  I am a writer who spaces out while leaning over blank notebook pages, and—let’s be honest—at various other points during my day.  Only after weeks of this daydreaminig will I sit down and begin to write about characters, settings, plot points, experimental scenes, etc. in a notebook.  Often, I’ll write through half the notebook and start over again because I figured out a better way to plot it—a way in which everything was connected. Then, and only then, do I begin drafting.

And now I’ll start over again.  Happily. 🙂

Have you ever burned it all to the ground and started from scratch?  Share below!

Stick Figures

Delete Your Darlings…Or Save Them in Another Document Because They’re Really Annoying

imageYou may already be familiar with the Faulkner quote: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings,” but I bet you seldom find yourself shouting “Kill!” into the open book before you.  Your sudden ire is unfortunate since you picked this book to help you relax and get away from your own crazy writing for a few hours.  Overall, the book isn’t bad.  It’s just…this scene.

You read on, growing more and more confused because—over the course of this lovely scene where two characters are sharing a pizza or whatever—nothing is happening. Sure, there’s dialogue and the author might argue some mild character development, but…no.  The whole thing is nothing more than an excuse for two people to make eyes at each other and joke about cheese.

Okay, so maybe it doesn’t count as a “scene” because there is no goal, conflict, or disaster…but it’s not a “sequel” either.  A sequel is the aftermath of a scene and includes a reaction, dilemma, and decision.  None of that exists in happy-yummy-pizza world.  The only reason these pages haven’t gone up in a glorious blaze is because the author can’t let them go.  Then again, maybe the author isn’t aware of his or her own shortcomings.

Three things can help with this:

  1. reading a lot of good books on the craft of writing
  2. reading a lot of well-written books that exhibit these features (and books that fail to)
  3. critique, revise, rinse, repeat

If you are a writer working on a manuscript everyday, you are probably in love with it.  That said, you need to accept that the book you’re writing may never meet with more than a few sets of eyes.  But even if your book baby never “makes it,” tangling with the words can turn that project into a really good learning experience—a stepping stone on the road to possible success with a future book.  This only works, however, if your process improves.

You can learn a lot from looking at a published book, but keep in mind, you are looking at a product.   One cannot see the hours of planning, revision, reimagining, and re-revision the author went through to “finish” that product.  That’s why we need the three-punch combo listed above.  Read, apply, work toward mastery.

For most writers, the longest and most difficult part of the process is revision.  Be your own worst enemy first—tear your writing to pieces and make a better monster out of what’s left. Then, get others to go through it with their own sharp eyes.  Please, not your mom.  She would love that pizza scene.

Writers, do you have a particular “darling” you had a hard time deleting? I’d love to hear about it!

Readers, is there a particular not-scene in a book you’ve read recently that makes you want to scream?  Tell all below!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Scene in a Song: How Fiction Explodes from My Head

imageHopefully, you’re one of the lucky ones whose imagination explodes into vivid motion picture when you hear good music.  Everyone has their own kind of music with which this “works,” so if you’re one of these fortunate souls, please tell me what you’re listening to in the comments section below.

Music is an integral part of my process.  When I hear it, especially songs with a lot of atmosphere, I see disconnected scenes.  I call these scenes set pieces because they are emotionally charged  whirlwinds of narration that accelerate the plot.  Here, I become my characters for the first time and then build a story around them including an immersive setting and conflict.

Well, these are the first steps at least.  By the time I’m finished with a story, it may look a bit different than the original idea (rewritten and revised TO DEATH), but the spirit of these set pieces stays in tact.  I keep in touch with a handful of anchor songs as I write, and it’s fun to return to them when I’m finished, reflecting on how much the narrative changed after being stapled down by details.

Does your imagination that move to music?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Uncategorized

Finish Line Mirage: When Will It End?

imageAbout once every two months, I’m like: “Oh yeah, this is TOTALLY the last revision.  I’m done, damn it.  Done!”  Then I’ll close in on the end and shake my head. “No, you tiny fool.  You need to do this again.”  They’ll be adjustments in every scene for language and detail.  I’ll find weak dialogue and odd metaphors.  It’s nothing global.  I’m sculpting, and I can’t stop.  I’ve gone through this 135,000 word book at least twenty times–minimum.  It’s been almost two years.  I was supposed to be finished in June…then September.  Now, I’m hoping to finally say “done” by the new year; that is, with the manuscript.  If I’m lucky enough to attract the attention of an agent, I’m more than happy to go back to work, but I’ve got to cut myself off sometime. 🙂

Writers, how many times do you revise a book before saying, “Enough!”

Michelle Joyce Bond

Uncategorized

It’s 11:00 and I’m Finally Writing

imageI’ll make this short because if I don’t, the book will never move.

Work–strenuous.

Dinner–delicious gourmet hotdogs.

Chores–husband is conspicuously missing.

Grading–ugh.

Exercise animals–rabbit hops in blissfully ignorant joy.

Exercise self–dance like crazy behind closed doors.

Shower.

Book–finally!

Writers, how does your average day stack up?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

OMG, Word Space!

imageWord space = the amount of space in a text that passes before a given word pops up again

Listening to books on disc in your car that have not been revised for word space = you flailing your arms and shouting obscenities while pedestrians stare in bewilderment

Imagine, if you will, that all words have a unique charge.  They push away from each other, so you can’t have too many of them in the same page or even in the same chapter.  The exceptions to this rule include articles, pronouns, and other frequently used words that are basic to the reader’s comprehension.  Almost every other word, like voice for instance, needs to be handled with care.

Terrible example:

“Are you going to kiss me now?” Ronald asked in a husky voice.

Burger’s voice dropped in pitch. “Oh yes.”

“Then why,” Ronald started, his voice catching, “don’t you take off that box and come over here?” *end scene*

Granted, the book playing in my car had a good enough plot to get me through dialogue like this (something much more riveting than burger love), but every time a word got repeated, I felt like digging my fingernails into the dashboard.

People please REVISE FOR WORD SPACE!  Otherwise, I swear, I’ll go flying off a cliff.

Michelle Joyce Bond

Uncategorized

Write to Entertain: Give Us Brain Candy

imageSo as not to get bored during the course of my brief rant, please imagine a horde of adorable rabbits breaking into your room with a boom box and proceeding to dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”  Good?  Okay.

Write to entertain–it’s your job.  Even if you write an article to inform, you need to keep your audience alive.  Play on their emotions.  Tickle their bones–funny or otherwise.  Scare them.  Shock them.  Make them uncomfortable.

This goes for blogs as well as books.  If you’re reading this, I gather you have a blog.  Whatever its purpose, play to your audience.  One cannot write well in a vacuum.  Words keep getting sucked into the dust bucket where they swirl around in a suck storm of writing that stays inside of you and never makes it into the hearts or minds of your readers.  Remember why you’re posting.  It’s not just as a reflection of yourself (or ideal self).  It’s another way of communicating or connecting with other human beings, and you must have patience with us.  We are flawed, myopic, and ADD.  Give us some brain candy, and we might listen.

If you have any thoughts to add on thIs topic–or that of dancing rabbits–please post below.  🙂