There must be consequences.

Occasionally (or more than occasionally), characters are going to make questionable decisions. This is fine, since characters are only human.

What isn’t okay is when characters make questionable decisions that had no consequences attached to them.

If a character is going to do something like, say, unintentionally inciting a rebellion against an authoritarian government, she needs to face the consequences of this. It would’ve been unrealistic if Katniss had just skipped back to District 12 and lived the rest of her life in complete and utter bliss after pulling that stunt with the berries. Things like this just don’t happen in real life, and if you want a surefire way to make sure people don’t like your characters, this is it.

If your character is going to make the government look dumb on live national television, and the government is one that doesn’t take kindly to looking dumb, there need to be consequences. If your character is going to make enemies by playing people against each other, eventually this is probably going to come back and bite your character in the butt.

And if you want me to like your character, your character can’t be surprised if she finds herself facing consequences. She doesn’t get to pull shenanigans like trying to restructure a country’s social system on live television and then be surprised when the king isn’t very impressed with this idea and tries to get rid of her.

In real life, there are consequences for our actions. Our characters should face consequences for their actions, as well.

What I’ve learned about romantic tension from television.

Note: this post will contain spoilers for Beauty and the Beast and Grey’s Anatomy.

I really like TV. If a show catches my eye, I’ll give it a chance, although it doesn’t take much to make me stop watching, either. (Exhibit A: Revolution – annoying main character. Exhibit B: Arrow – too much emphasis on abs, not enough focus on other things. Yes, I know. I’m surprised I turned down abs, too.)

One show I was super into until around mid-season was the CW’s Beauty and the Beast. My favorite part was watching the tension between Vincent and Cat, especially because I’m a huge fan of forbidden love. And since Vincent was supposed to be dead…well, it doesn’t get more forbidden than that, does it?

Then they got together. And suddenly I was bored.

beauty-and-the-beast-the-cw-kristin-kreukPart of it was the cutesy soundtrack that played every time they made out, which was basically every scene they were in together. But mostly it was that the tension that was there was gone. They got together, and suddenly all of their problems (except for Vincent still being “dead,” I guess) went away. Maybe this changed after a few episodes, but it wasn’t like I was going to wait around and find out – I’m less forgiving with TV shows than books in this sense.

Since I don’t want to dwell on the negatives, I’m going to talk about a show that does romantic tension right: Grey’s Anatomy.

Remember when these two happened? Alex has to find love someday, right?

Remember when these two happened? Alex has to find love someday, right?

I’ve occasionally said I hate when 90% of TV couples get together, and the other 10% are Grey’s Anatomy. This is because I don’t get bored. For example, I totally cheered when April and Avery got together, because it was totally obvious they were Meant To Be. But that lasted, like, two seconds, because then they spent this season trying to define what they were, not to mention how April was freaking out because of the clash between her religious convictions and what she wanted, and this had a huge impact on their relationship. It wasn’t all mushy soundtracks and sunsets and sweet nothings – these characters had a lot of stuff to figure out in the wake of their happening.

My point is this: These characters had to work through a lot of things to get together. Now they have to work through a lot of things to stay that way.

On maturing as a writer.

Sunday morning I got notes on SHARDS back from one of my CPs. When it popped up in my inbox I looked a lot like this:

Except I didn’t look nearly as attractive as James Van Der Beek.

Basically, the gist of this particular set of notes is that my male characters are dreamy I just need to tweak some things and this thing should be ready.* Obviously, I’m still waiting on feedback from my other CPs, BUT STILL.

If you had told me that four years ago, I would have looked like this:

I promise I don’t spit take this much in real life.

I was barely 20 when I started the first draft of SHARDS. I didn’t even bother finishing it; I got about 35k words in before I realized I wasn’t feeling it and restarted it from scratch. I did complete that draft. It took me three years, but I finally sat myself down and forced myself to finish it.

One thing I noticed when I was reading through it last year was how much my writing changed over the course of the book. It…was not good. Word choice has never been a problem for me, but sentence structure? As I was reading, I could tell at what point in time I took my English classes because that gradually improved. I still love passive voice and dialogue tags pretty hard, but my sentences grew less convoluted – mostly because I finally figured out where I should be putting modifiers. (Side note: I didn’t even know what a modifier was until that post-bac quarter after I graduated. True story.)

But it’s not just the writing; it’s the story, too. There’s more depth to it. At first the whole story was just the reincarnation thing. Which was fine, I guess, but I realized things would fizzle out pretty fast unless I added some layers. So I added the politics. Then I added religious tension. Then I piled in some social and gender conflict, too.

I think that no matter what happens, I’ll always have a special bond with SHARDS. It isn’t the first novel I’ve completed, but it is the first one I’ve bothered to put in the work on, and it’s grown up along with me.

The past four years have been a lot of this:

But it’s been worth it, no matter what, because of all of the things I’ve learned.

*My male characters are really dreamy, though. Not that I’m biased.

I’m writing something new and it’s terrifying.

I’ve referenced it only briefly on the blog, but I finished revising SHARDS a week ago. While I’ve been playing around with the sequel, OPAQUE, I’ve also redoubled my efforts to finish a draft of FIRE because I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket.

As it turns out, working on something that’s not SHARDS is terrifying.

I’ve been in the same world with the same characters for the past five years. Nilea is home and Calanthe, Vantandal, Ethan, and the rest are all my friends by now. I know these characters. I know how Nilea works. And now I’m starting something completely different with completely different characters I don’t know anything about, in an entirely different world I’m discovering alongside the characters. I guess the best way to describe it is it’s like my first day at a new school and everyone’s staring at me like I’m the new girl.

But all of the things that are terrifying about writing something completely new? Those are also the things that make it exciting.

YA Book Club: Taken

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YA Book Club is an online book club hosted by Tracey Neithercott. This month we read Taken by Erin Bowman, so if you’ve read it, feel free to join in!

I was so excited about my copy I had to take a picture with it. It happens.

I was so excited about my copy I had to take a picture with it. It happens.

I loved Taken so much, I stayed up an hour past my bedtime to finish it. It started off a little slow for me, but once it got going, it didn’t let up. Since the premise was unique and I didn’t have too much of an idea of the plot beforehand, the twists really caught me off guard – which I appreciated, what with my strangely predictive powers and all. There was one I had guessed at because I’d already seen it done in a certain book I won’t name because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else (review with spoilers can be found here), but aside from that I had no ideas.

The main character, Gray, wasn’t the most likable character. He was impulsive, needs to work on his temper like whoa, and does a couple really jerktastic things. In this case, though, it wasn’t a death sentence because he so obviously cares about the people in his life – particularly his brother, Blaine; his niece, Kale; and some of the people he comes to meet throughout the course of the story. While there were some times I wanted to sit down with him and have a serious talk with him about some of his questionable decisions, I felt like the whole caring about others (even if he doesn’t always play nice with them) thing was a pretty huge redeeming quality. Also, he’s a teenage boy, so it’s not like he was unrealistically portrayed.

I wasn’t as into the love triangle as I was hoping to be. Honestly, I just didn’t feel it with Emma and Gray, because I just didn’t see why Gray would be into Emma in the first place. They just didn’t seem to fit to me, plus Emma wasn’t as interesting a character to me as Bree was.

The end of the book hints at more world building in the next one, which I’m super enthused about. While Taken wasn’t perfect, I still need the next two books, like, yesterday. I can’t wait to see where Gray’s adventures (and impulsiveness, let’s be honest) will take him next!

Kicking Around Story Ideas

Recently, Katy Upperman blogged about where she gets her story ideas, so I figured now it was my turn.

And so I present to you a post in two parts.

Part One: The Snatching of SNIs

People get ideas from many things: songs, people they know, things that have happened, things overheard, etc. I have my history degree to thank for my wealth of ideas, since pretty much every single idea I’m currently writing or will write in the future has been inspired by something I learned in a history class. Calanthe, the MC of SHARDS (my YA fantasy WIP), was inspired by Isabella of France, the wife of Edward II of England. The dualist religion that plays a huge part in the story is loosely based on the medieval sect of Catharism; the political conflict is based on the Wars of the Roses. My NA dystopian fantasy, FIRE, was inspired by the Spanish Inquisition, which I took an entire class about in college (and it was totally AWESOME). I have a whole host of other ideas in the queue, too, inspired by everything from the Byzantine Empire to the (Second) Defenestration of Prague.

Which brings me to…

Part Two: The Captivity of SNIs

I have TOO MANY IDEAS to write them as soon as I get them, so I have a document that’s basically a word vomit of any thoughts I have in relation to these ideas, filed under such descriptive titles as “prostitute assassin Byzantium plague story.” I find it actually helps to let my ideas sit for awhile, anyway, because while they’re sitting, they have a tendency to develop a little more so that when I DO finally get around to writing them, I already have a basic idea of what I’m going to write – even though actual outlining is a pretty new thing for me.

Where do your SNIs come from? Do you write them as you get them, or do you file some away for later?

Friendship

Specifically, male/female friendship in YA.

Specifically, how rarely I see it.

I mean, yeah, okay, fine, girls and guys are friends, like, ALL THE TIME in YA books. But by the end of the book they’re usually realizing their feelings for each other and whatever. Bonus points if they’ve been BFFs since they were born!

What about all the other friendships? The ones where they are…well…just friends?

I love romantic storylines as much as the next person, but I wish there were more of these platonic friendships, because it’s not like every single friendship you have with someone of the opposite sex has to end up with you two getting together, right? I feel like we need more books that reflect that.

Examples Of Platonic Male/Female Friendships In YA:

  • Aria and Roar from Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi
  • Harry and Hermione from the Harry Potter Series
  • Cinder and Thorne from Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
  • Ruby and Chubs from The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

…and I’m blanking on other examples.

[Click for source.]

[Click for source.]

My point is, though, these relationships were just as satisfying as all of the romantic relationships that populate YA books. And I’d say in some cases – for example, Aria and Roar – I actually liked the friendship more than the romantic relationship (which is saying something, because I love Aria and Perry together).

Also, there’s that part of me that worries what sort of messages we’re sending. Just because he’s a dude and he’s nice to you means he’s looking for something? You can’t be just friends with someone? I feel like this might be part of that whole bigger thing in YA where romantic relationships > friendship.

Speaking of which…don’t even get me started on girl/girl friendships. That’s a subject for another post.

Any other examples of platonic girl/boy friendships in YA?

YA Book Club: Just One Day

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Today is a glorious day, for after far too long it is time for another installment in YA Book Club, hosted by Tracey Neithercott. This month’s selection was Just One Day by Gayle Forman. (Book cover links to Goodreads page.)

12842115I absolutely adored Just One Day, to the point where I stayed up until one in the morning to finish it – which is a feat I rarely accomplish anymore because I’m a Premature Old Person. Initially I read it in bits and pieces at work during lunch, but I realized quickly that bits and pieces wasn’t going to do Forman’s descriptions of England and Paris justice – she did such a great job creating settings that really came to life and made me so jealous of Allyson/Lulu’s adventures (and not just because she was running around with a cute Dutch boy, but that sure didn’t hurt).

It took a little while to get into what I felt was the meat of the story, but I didn’t mind because I was so busy enjoying the settings. But what I loved the most about this book was Allyson’s discovery of Lulu, her fearless alter-ego, during her one day in Paris with Willem, followed by the following year in which she struggled to find Lulu again – and realize that Lulu and Allyson are actually the same person. I think what struck me most was how honest Allyson’s struggles were – her struggle to figure out what she wants now that she has the power to decide is something a lot of us could probably relate to at that age, and I feel like this perfectly captures what the whole New Adult thing is about.

For me, the romance wasn’t nearly as important to the book as Allyson’s self-discovery, but I still loved it. I loved how Willem brought out the more fearless side of Allyson, and I spent the entire second part of the book rooting for them…although I can’t really go into it too much more because spoilers. Suffice to say, I can’t wait to read Willem’s side of the story.

Have you read Just One Day? Go join the discussion at Tracey’s blog!

Review: Broken at Love

Broken at Love (Whitman University, #1)Broken at Love by Lyla Payne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: this was only the second New Adult book I’ve read, like, ever. But I can tell you I will most certainly be reading many more after Broken at Love.

At first Broken at Love seems like just a fun read, and it is a really fun read. In fact, I read most of it in one sitting, staying up past my bedtime to finish it – one of the highest compliments a book can get from me. It had everything I love – pretty rich people, brooding (and hot) men, and enough drama to fuel a whole fleet of soap operas. But what really made me love it was the genuine chemistry Quinn and Emilie had – it didn’t feel forced at all, to the point where no matter how despicable some of the things Quinn did were, I was still rooting for them because separating them would just be cruel.

So. Originally, I gave the book 4 stars. But then I let myself sit on that, as I do before I write a review. And now here are the reasons I ultimately bumped it up to a 5:

First of all, Emilie’s confidence. One thing that has turned me off of romance novels is the fact that most of the women are delicate little virginal flowers who wait around for their One True Love and a whole host of other things that make me roll my eyes. Emilie, on the other hand, knows what she wants, she’s not ashamed of it, and she goes for it, even knowing there’s a good chance it’ll be a one time thing. In addition to that, even though she insists there’s something good in Quinn under all the angst and horrible things he’s done, she doesn’t try to turn him into something he’s not. If more romance heroines were like Emilie, I’d probably read more romance novels.

And Quinn. Ohh, Quinn. At the beginning of the story, he’s a really easy guy to hate. He actively does everything he can to reinforce that he is, in fact, a terrible person. But by the end of the story…you’ll love him. Not because he turns into a Prince Charming (yawn), but because – not unlike Sawyer from Lost – we come to realize that under that whole act Quinn puts on, there is a decent guy in there. Somewhere.

Also, have I mentioned how much I love Quinn and Emilie together? I did? Oh. Still do.

Broken at Love is available now. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy!

Thank you to the author for providing an ARC for review.

View all my reviews

Process: Using Setting to Generate Story

People have different ways of coming up with stories. Some people have an idea for the plot first, and they fill in with characters and setting later. Some people have characters first, and just need to come up with a story for these characters.

And then there are people like me, who have a setting in mind first, and everything else comes later. Although, I haven’t really heard much of anything from this camp…surely I’m not alone?

When the first kernels of a story idea are coming to me, usually the first thing that comes to mind is the setting. For example, for SHARDS, it was the whole Victorian Era meets Wars of the Roses thing. For FIRE, it was a dystopian city-state with witch trials. Another idea I have percolating right now involves ethnic conflict and potential genocide. Basically…settings with room for lots of conflict.

After I have that in place, I start filling in, usually with characters. What sort of characters would I be likely to find in that sort of setting? For SHARDS, knowing that my Victorian-inspired setting isn’t likely to allow women much freedom, I can fill in the picture with Calanthe, a teenage girl who’s being married off against her will, and who feels trapped because of her perceived lack of choices. From the Wars of the Roses element of it, I thought about what if her family belonged to one of the houses fighting for power? How might that impact her?

Knowing my setting helped me generate a lot of questions about my characters, which I then used to help me generate my plot. (For more on how this works [for me], see this post.*) What does this character want? What choices does this character have to make? What conflict(s) do(es) this character face? Once I’ve got all that in place, I’m ready to write.

What comes to you first when you’re getting ready to write a new idea? Any other setting-first people out there?

*Ignore that post when it says I always have characters first. Obviously, it’s full of lies. However, the rest of the post still stands.