Thursday, November 19, 2015

So When's the Next #YayYA?

So on the side of my blog there's this contact form that is rarely used, but last week or possibly two weeks ago (sorry, time blends in college), I received an email from it.

"Dear Rachel,

When will the next #YayYA be? And do I need a Twitter to enter?

Lilly Anderson."

Dear Lilly (and everyone else who has probably been wondering this question),

Firstly, thanks for being such a loyal, interactive reader! Bloggers love that. Like, a lot.

Secondly, college does weird things to my schedule, but it's my hope to host another #YayYA sometime in December/January. I don't have an exact date yet, unfortunately, but it will be announced soon! Promise.

And thirdly, nope, you don't need a Twitter to enter. There's some chatting, questions, and entrant interaction that happens on Twitter during the rounds, but a couple of entrants in the past have been Twitterless and got as much feedback as any of the other entrants.

Also, bonus info, I've thought about maybe turning #YayYA into an agented contest, but that'll probably have to wait for next summer. Still have to figure out the hoops I'll need to jump through and how much more time that will take. So note the word "maybe."

For those of you wondering what #YayYA is, here's a link to the last round's rules:

Yours appreciatively,


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Foolproof Tip on Writing Fantastic Narrative

"Read your work aloud."

No, that's not my foolproof tip. However, that statement, which you've probably heard before, is part of it.

I always wondered why I painstakingly agonized over word choice, and why I wanted it to "sound" just right, when most of my intended readers wouldn't be reading my work out loud. Then one day, in English, my professor tossed the textbook aside and started talking about assonance and dissonance. Another day he told me that my narrative "zipped through" until he got to one sentence he "tripped over." Why? Because my word choices suddenly flopped back and forth between ps and cs and ls. The rest of my narrative, however, was easy to read because I used steady amounts of subtle alliteration, vowel similarity, and consonant rhyme. I like my words focused in the lips and tip of the tongue. I tend to avoid words that use the back of the tongue, unless the sound is at the end of the word and flips easily to the tip of the tongue again.

It sounds super complicated and technical, and not at all conducive to sitting down and pounding out whatever comes to your head. It's not. It takes practice to develop a purposeful word and sound pattern, just like it takes time to practice developing a voice. There's a technical and mechanical side to every art. But it's not as hard as it may sound, pun totally intended.

Our brains read words the same way our mouths would. Tongue twisters are almost as hard to read as say. I don't know about you, but when I read extremely dissonant stuff, my brain stops, trips, staggers, stammers, what have you, and often times, I start reading under my breath in an attempt to clear this sewage clog of wordage.

So here's what you should do. Think about how you like your words to sound. If you haven't before, A, E, and I as opposed to O and U. As aforementioned, I also use a lot of letters and sounds focused on the tip of the tongue.  Me aside, you should't have to take to long to find your pet sounds.
then look at what you name your characters. You'll probably see some sort of pattern. I know I have pet sounds, especially with character names, and I know this because I made a master list of character names and looked for said patterns. There's a snippet in the photo on the right. The names listed are from different works-in-progress of different genres. You can see even from just these few that I gravitate toward hard constanant sounds and brighter vowels, especially long E and short A sounds.

What's the point of all this? Well, when our brains have to work less at processing the means to the end, the letters to the words to the story, it engages us more in the story and less in the text.

So there you go! It'll take practice and experimentation and a willingness to not story-vomit next time you sit down to pants, but it'll be worth it. My English professor will thank you.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Copying the Masters: Jane Austen

Ah, Jane Austen. Some of you may have seen that hilarious Buzzfeed post where Jane Austen got a modern editor's take on her work (I swear I snarfed my milk at the whole thing about Mr. Wickham being the main character). I promise we aren't going to have any of that in this post, but the truth is, while Austen has stood the test of time, largely thanks to her undying fandom following, she's probably not the greatest author role model.

Jane Austen

Some facts about Jane Austen:

1. She never married, and thanks to her sister destroying many of her letters, we will never really know if she ever had an understanding with anyone. Considering how intuitive her novels are, though, one likes to imagine.

2. Austen was terribly self-conscious about her work. She'd write alone, and insisted on keeping the door squeaky so she knew when people were coming in and she could hide her work.

3. Her debut Sense and Sensibility was originally a series of fictional letters titled Elinor and Marianne, similar to Lady Susan. It only sold about 500 copies.

Some areas where it's not a good idea to emulate Austen:

1. No critique partners?

 As aforementioned above, Austen was secretive about her writing. She would read it to her family, but before publishing Sense and Sensibility kept it otherwise private. While we can't deny that Austen's work is in many ways brilliant, this is not a wise course to follow. Find critique partners and beta readers. A second pair of non-familial eyes (and a third and fourth and fifth, even) are crucial to your story's development.

2. Set the scene

Austen does a poor job at setting her scenes. Many portions of her books are merely conversation, and we're not even told where these conversations take place, including the famous opening exchange between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet over Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. Make sure you show us and ground us in your setting.

3. Allow the plot some drive

To quote a fellow writer, "I'm about to speak author blasphemy." Constantly we are told to have character-driven novels, but when we focus only on the characters and what they do, as opposed to giving them some plot to work with, you can end up with a story full of empty conversation, first-world problems, and a lack of conflict. There's plenty of conflict in Jane Austen's work, but putting that aside, when one takes away her satire and her goal of laying out the social traps middle-class women often found themselves in those times, we end up with a story about (yay) privileged people's social squabbles. For Austen's purpose, it works fine, but don't let your story be driven by characters alone.

Some areas where it's a good idea to emulate Austen:

1. Character development

Austen's characters are iconic for their humanity. While some might argue that Austen's characters
have petty desires compared to figures from other classic novels like Dickens, Austen's characters are so compelling with pursuing their goals that we can't help but root for them. In Austen's world, the true heroes and heroines are those that recognize their faults and, unlike most modern literature, set out to right them and improve themselves as individuals.

2. Balance your humor with genuine story

Comedy these days often gets so focused on cheap humor that it loses sight of story. Part of what makes PIXAR so great is that their animated films, unlike most in the same genre, are not purely comedic stories. They're also fully-developed stories. The same goes for romance. Romance can't just be about Hot Guy and Hot Girl falling in love. You need an actual story. Austen was brilliant at balancing humor, heartbreak, and plot.

3. Give your characters smaller goals

Most characters in today's market want to save the world from catastrophe. Austen's characters are focused on finding simple happiness for themselves and their loved ones. While the latter may seem more petty, giving your character a more personal goal makes it easier for your readers to relate to them.

To sum up, Austen, though undyingly popular, is also eccentric and unusual in her prose style. She was in her day, and she is in our day. Description of setting is entirely absent from her work, but where she fails there, she rewards patient readers with her brilliant character development and witty insight with social comedy. Creating iconic characters creates an iconic story. No one will care about your plot if you do not have relatable, three-dimensional characters. No one will appreciate your characters, three-dimensional or not, if you do not let them be honestly faulty. And Austen gently but firmly shows us her characters' faults, both men and women alike.

In the next Copying the Masters post, we'll be looking at the great Leo Tolstoy. 

Thoughts or comments? Feel free to share!