Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why We Don't Need Any More Loner Characters... Especially in YA

 Ah, the loner. The lone ranger, the self-appointed outcast, the dark and brooding mysterious scavenger-warrior who wanders and waits for their time to come and more oft than not, refuses assistance except perhaps from one trusted friend. Such figures fill literature and film, and we recognize them immediately. Aragorn, Gandalf, Han Solo, Yoda, Halt, Batman, James Bond, Rey, Captain Jack Sparrow, the list could go on. Antagonists frequently fit into this category as well. Protagonist or antagonist, the point is, this character archetype frequents writing. While I used to find such a character appealing to read and to write, I'm now a little more cautious to use them in my work and in recommending using them to other writers. Why? In this social day and age, I would say the loner who chooses to be a loner is no longer a romantic ideal that readers, especially teen readers, find appealing.

I was watching The Maze Runner film last night for the first time and was trying to figure out what made the main character, Thomas, so different from other YA blockbuster stars. He is a type of outcast in the Maze, as he turns out to be the Special Snowflake and the other resent him for it, but it wasn't the same. Eventually, I laid my finger on it. In the past, I have said I preferred Maze Runner to Hunger Games because in Hunger Games, it's starving teen against starving teen, but in Maze Runner, it's Pack of Survivors against the Outside World. There's a brotherhood, a lack of individualism and a focus on friendship that Maze Runner has that its competitors lack. Instead of Me, it's Us. And Thomas, with a lot of help from Newt and his other friends, pushes for this group dynamic. He tries to bring the Gladers together, as opposed to fighting on his rebellious lonesome. Now some might argue that other Loner characters such as Katniss do bring people together, but what's lacking is a social friendship dynamic.

I think we need more characters like Thomas, who strive for interactive relationships with those around them, than loners in fiction, especially YA. We live in a social world where we interact constantly. Characters who find that unattractive and would rather live in an empty world without friends (except one or two friends they choose, which basically makes them social jerks [#sorrynotsorry]) are not as relatable. I know this for a fact because in my own work, The Red and the Scarlet, all of my betas found my main character Fyr, who starts out as one of these Loners, unrelatable and annoying, even, and gravitated toward my more social supporting characters. But as the story progresses and Fyr starts to reach out to those around her in an attempt to befriend people out of empathy as opposed to self-interest, my betas started rooting hard for her. For teens especially, the character reaching for friendship (whether successfully or unsuccessfully) as opposed to choosing to shut themselves out is more relatable.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


Name: Rachel Stevenson (@whatshewrote)
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Title: The Waterfront Girls

Pitch: Blackbeard’s ghost fleet threatens modern Charleston again. Skateboarder Shalayla and her girlfriends agree to help quiet businessman Guy prevent a blockade, but as descendants of Blackbeard’s rival, only their blood will satisfy the dead pirate.

First 500: 

Charleston smiles. Charleston nods when you pass it. Shalayla smiled and nodded now at weaving tourists. Buttercream pastel Rainbow Row skipped behind her back.
            The gray-suited white guy wasn’t a tourist. Shalayla never saw him before. Didn’t matter. Nice view, she knew him, and he believed in pirate ghosts. He believed in the two-hundred-year old finger dangling off her throat.
His path wobbled as he skimmed the sights behind marching palmettos, glinting blue sunglasses, and his Starbucks cup. A car slowed as he wandered into the street, and he dashed to the curve, hand saluting an apology. He spotted her. His steps spread. His coffee’s shadow, visible through recycled paper thanks to morning sun, bounced in his grasp. Didn’t look like a nutcase. That complicated things.
Shalayla pulled her cap’s sweaty rim further over her eyes and leaned her back on bubblegum pink wall, stretching crossed legs and balancing, sitting on her skateboard.
            “Hi,” said Guy Allamby Bonnet. He stood over her, his shadow tangling with the pink house’s, and offered a hand. Probably to help her up. Shalayla shook it. He pocketed his fingers awkwardly. “Um. Thanks for meeting me.”
            “No problem. Don’t know why it couldn’t be at the candy shop, though.”
            “It’d take too long.” Guy Allamby Bonnet ran a hand over his day’s worth of white man stubble. “Miss…”
            “Shalayla, but sure as heck you don’t call me Shay, Mister Bonnet.”
            “Sounds good, if you call me Guy. My grandpa’s house is not far from here, but I figured the pink house was an easy meeting place.”
            “That’s fine.” Shalayla stood, slinging her board over her shoulder and ignoring his offered white hand again. “There’s one thing you gotta know though.”
            “I’ll pay you want you want.”
            “Not that.” Shalayla flung her orange braids behind her. “I’ve got friends. Four of them.”
            “Oh, right. You mentioned Julia.”
            “They’re in on this, and they will be the whole time, or no deal.”
            Guy shifted on his leg and sampled his coffee. “Okay, deal. Now let’s go.”
            He gestured for her to go first. Her skateboard’s silhouette swayed back and forth under her sauntering feet. Together they walked in I-just-met you silence under the palmettos, past a kissing selfie couple, Confederate flags, praline shops leaking cinnamon-sugared steam into the street. The Waterfront parted the buildings framing the streets like a curtain just ahead, but they turned into a gravel driveway.
Shalayla leaned on her skateboard as Guy fiddled with the custom iron fence, its bars a-swirl with pineapple patterns. Above them rose a Greek revivalist mansion, its white pillars and bubbling porches poised and polished.
“Ah ha.” Guy swung the gate open and let her in first. Gravel ground under Shalayla’s converses.
            “So this is your granddad’s house?” she asked. The words were half out of her wire-corested mouth when something fluttered in an upper window. A curtain. A face. Shalayla paused and Guy passed her and rocking chairs to the door.
            “Yeah,” he said, scrubbing his feet on a scuffed Gamecocks welcome mat. The kind you buy at Walmart in the back of the store, where everything is motor oil reek and bike racks


Name: Elaine Henshaw @MPinchwife

Genre:Contemporary YA

Title: #HowtobeaSuperstar

Lulu Molloy -fit,funny 14 year old wannabe. When she drags her bf to auditions, she doesn't expect her to be the better actress. Just how low would you go to get THAT part?

It's not right the way that Mondays come straight after Sundays. In an ideal world, well in my ideal world, there'd be another, extra day, a sort of Sunday Plus, that would give you time to suck all the mess back up that it took you most of Sunday to spread around the house. Failing that,  get yourself a pair of ear -plugs so that you can't hear your mum stomping around and going into a 'get-yourself- ready -for- school frenzy', making lists and freaking poor old Norman out so much that he hops upstairs in his weird three-legged way and hides in the bottom of the wardrobe with his head buried in Dad's old dressing-gown. If I could fit in it I'd get in there with him. The wardrobe that is.
'Lulu! Lu-LU?' Mum is standing at the bottom of the stairs, bellowing up. I put my earphones in and turn the volume up to the setting that should be marked 'starting to hurt your ears'. I am just pushing a pile of clothes with my toe when Mum bursts into my room , without even knocking.
Use Of Full Name is always a danger signal and I try to look innocent and busy at the same time.
'If you are not going to help me to take down the Christmas decorations, you could at least get your stuff ready for school. '
Her eyes sweep over the tidal wave of grunge that has accumulated in my room since Christmas Day.
'Per-lease! Supper will be ready in twenty minutes, Louise. Twenty minutes!'
When I see her standing there looking at the scrunched- up heaps of ripped Christmas paper, the dirty tights, hair tongs, sweet wrappers, but most of all clothes, she suddenly looks like a little girl who might start crying if you put your tongue out at her. I wouldn't even be that surprised if she did. TBH Christmas has been pants this year and the best bit was being signed on by the Casting Agency this afternoon. If only Dad hadn't been stuck in the snow, in deepest, coldest France, it could have been a brilliant Christmas. Mum is obviously a mind-reader.
She says it like it's a question.
I take my ear phones out.
She is not a mind-reader after all. She is a parent. 100%, all- the- way- through- like- a- stick- of- rock Parent. She is pointing to the pile of clothes I wriggled out of before I showered and got into the pink pig onesie Mum bought me for Christmas.
On top of the biggest heap of clothes, is the tangle of shorts, tights and pants that I managed to take off all in one go. Actually I think it quite a feat and probably could get the Turner Prize or star in an exhibition of modern art if it had the right title.

'Gross!' seems to be mum's suggestion . And/or 'Get it tidied up NOW!'    


Name: Bethany Stevenson
Genre: Sci Fi
35 word pitch: When an impeached politician discovers away to completely control the scientifically-enhanced Militis guards, Asa is forced to save his friends before they are completely overpowered and used like robots for the senator's schemes.
First 500 words:

            I am dreaming. It has to be fake.
            Asa tried blinking, but he couldn’t. For some odd reason, he stared up out of someone else’s head. He saw everything that they did. He experimented his limits of moving or speaking in the person but nothing happened.
            Bright lights blinded him.
            Doctors leaned over him, staring down at whomever he was inside of behind masks. Different needles were raised and vanished beyond Asa’s sight.
            The weirdest part was that he couldn’t control what he looked at. He couldn’t feel anything either. It felt like watching a movie but Asa knew he wasn’t. For some reason, his mind connected with someone else’s telepathically.
            He struggled to push or call out to the person’s distant soul but he didn’t know how. Asa fought to wake up but it was impossible to break the connection now.
            Seeing without hearing became torturous.
            The doctors’ words never made noise. Needles should’ve pricked but didn’t. His eye were supposed to blink but wouldn’t when he tried to.
            Wake up, he told himself, Wake up and tell mom and dad!
            Finally, after what felt like ages, the weird dream began to fade away.
            Asa heard a noise. A voice.
            The vision, along with all origins of sleep, shattered. Asa sat up with a jerk.
            He rubbed his eyes and let out a deep breath, seeing that he was still in his room back at home.
            That had to be the creepiest dream ever.
            Asa slipped out of his bed and peaked out the curtains of his window.
            The late nighttime lights and air-traffic of Leeland City flickered and danced on his bedroom walls. Cars flew past his window, headlights and engines blaring. Hologram billboards flashed friendly advertisements, which Asa took the time to memorize each month.
            He sighed and shut the curtains again.
            Something inside Asa didn’t want to go back to sleep. Nor did he want to forget the weird dream.
            Asa knew something was beyond wrong. Strangest, he knew the girl’s mind disconnected from his, out of reach somewhere in the world.
            That had to have been real. I must’ve seen some image or her surroundings that the girl wanted to show me.
            Randomly, everything felt hot.
            Asa turned down the temperature in his room.
            Maybe I can try to figure out how that happened, he thought, sitting on a plastic chair near his assistant and cleaner robots.
            Relaxing, Asa shut his eyes, reaching out with his brain again. Immediately, something clicked. But this time, instead of seeing through someone’s eyes, someone was spying through him.
            Asa scanned the room, blinking the weird feeling in the back of his head away. Something in his sub-conscience panicked. The connection between him and the other ten-year-old boy switched off.
            Someone could see everything I did! Ass jumped to his feet excitedly. He knew he had telepathically knotted his mind with another boy, just like the girl had done to him. I’ve got super powers!


Name: Karen McManus (@writerkmc)
Genre: Contemporary
Title: One of Us Is Lying
35-Word Pitch: One murdered creator of a notorious gossip app. Four high-profile students whose secrets he was about to spill. They're the obvious suspects--but someone's pulling strings. If they can't uncover who, they'll take the fall.
First 500: 
BRONWYN: I've never had detention before and can't believe I've gotten it today of all days. I actually had a date. Sort of. Okay, not an official date, but our mathlete team is headed to Epoch Coffee and my crush offered to buy me a latte.
When put that way, it sounds a little sad. But I was still looking forward to it. Now I'm stuck in afterschool heck courtesy of Mr. Avery, who's under the impression I brought a cell phone to history class.

Which I didn't, since Mr. Avery is famous for doing what he thinks are sneaky, random spot checks every Thursday. I don't know where the Android knockoff he pulled from my backpack came from, but it wasn't mine. Unfortunately, Mr. Avery is a give-detention-first, ask-questions-never kind of guy.
I take a seat next to Cooper Clay, wondering what he did to land here. Cooper usually spends his afterschool hours on the baseball diamond, honing a ninety-mile-per-hour fastball that has major league scouts drooling.
Nate Macauley tips his chair back and smirks at me. "You take a wrong turn? This is detention, not student council."
I guess he'd know. Nate's been in trouble since fifth grade, which is right around the time we last spoke. The gossip mill tells me he's on probation with Bayview's finest for ... something. It might be a DUI, it might be drug dealing. He's a notorious supplier, but my knowledge is purely theoretical. One Long Island iced tea is a wild night for me.
"Save the commentary." Mr. Avery checks something off a clipboard and closes the classroom door.
I feel an outraged sense of injustice, the way I used to when my sister did something wrong and I got punished. I shouldn't even be here. I should be at a hip fair-trade coffee house, flirting awkwardly over differential equations.

"Mr. Avery." I raise my hand until I notice Nate's smirk broadening. "That wasn't my phone you found. I don't know how it got into my bag. This is mine." I brandish my iPhone in its melon-striped Kate Spade case.
"You too?" Addy Prentiss turns to me so quickly, her blond shampoo-ad hair swirls around her shoulders. She must have been surgically removed from her football-star boyfriend in order to show up alone. "That wasn't my phone, either."
"Me three," Cooper chimes in. His three comes out thray. Cooper moved here from Mississippi in eighth grade, and still has a southern accent.
"Somebody punked us!" Simon Kelleher leans forward with his elbows on the desk, a strand of floppy dark hair grazing his sharp cheekbone. He looks spring-loaded, ready to pounce on fresh gossip for his infamous tell-all app, About That. Teachers have been trying to shut it down for years, but Simon's always one step ahead.
We all stare pointedly at Nate, who tips even farther back in his chair. Another millimeter and he'll fall right over.


Name: Jade Hemming!
Twitter handle: jadewritesbooks 
Genre: Sci Fi

Pitch: Sara uncovers a hidden timeline which threatens to rewrite history. While authorities deny the problem exists, Sara risks her own future attempting to prevent catastrophe as enemies become friends – and friends turn into enemies.

The first time I travelled a Line, I overshot it by three minutes.
A genuine mistake, but a big one. Despite eleven months of preparation for my first time travel experience I’d overlooked a minor co-ordinate and landed almost face-down in the smoky New York subway. The people around didn’t notice me, they weren’t trained to. Nobody had time for a confused-looking Asian girl so I was lost amongst the crush of the rush hour. To them, I was just another tourist trying to find her way to Times Square.
My colleagues hadn’t thought to mention ‘by the way, Sara, when you travel through time you’ll get the world’s worst migraine’. The moment the world stopped spinning my head gave an almighty thud of protest. Never mind extensive training, they’d missed out the part where my tongue felt numb and every atom in my body tried to find itself again.
When I finally managed to move, I kept my path simple. Go up top, see where I was, because I most definitely had not arrived where I was meant to be. I kept my head down, hands in the pockets of my hoodie. I saw one guy looking at me, enjoying my seemingly-customised gear. It was not found in department stores.
An old toothless man with a matt of grey hair seemed to spot me as I approached the stairs and he laughed, waving a rotten handkerchief in my direction.
This was not how I’d planned my first visit to America.
It was one thing seeing it on screen, instructed not to speak to anyone or do anything apart from the one action the assignment stated. It was another being there, smelling the odd mixture of dust and fresh air amongst the warm bodies shuffling along the pavement – or was it sidewalk now? - trying to get to their destination. A constant stream of noise while I remained silent.
A single word has the potential to alter the entire course of human history. The first lesson taught to budding Corrections Architects like myself repeated in the coursebooks one hundred and seventy times. Those who understood the lesson would do better than others. Those who failed to recognise the importance of the smallest action would fail.
To say I was terrified to move was an understatement but I carried on regardless of my headache, nausea, and whatever it was making my knees wobble. It wasn’t the sudden cold. While I was used to a toasty Sydney climate, I’d seen the temperatures for that freezing February day and prepared for the icy blasts which stung my face.

For some reason people’s existence began to irritate the living crap out of me. Perhaps it was the migraine, or the fact I felt hungry, or perhaps another side effect of Line travel. I’d heard a few people’s moods went out of whack when they weren’t used to travelling. I just hadn’t expected it to hit me.