Emotional Tone

Something I think about a lot as I’m starting a new project is the emotional tone of the story. What do I want the reader to be feeling as they’re reading? (Besides a desire to keep turning the page, of course.) It can be a subtle thing, and is not always dictated by the subject matter. For instance, even though John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is about two kids with cancer, it’s a relatively light, upbeat (if occasionally sad) book. Or the Harry Potter series, despite the lightness of some of the characters and concepts and language, gets somewhat dark toward the end.

Some day I’m going to challenge myself to write a cheery, upbeat book, maybe something like Ally Carter’s Heist Society stories. But I’m not there yet. My books all skew toward the darker, with some more so than others. I feel an emotional pull to these stories, much more than to lighter ones, like the anguish of the main character(s) has me hooked by the chest and is pulling me along the plot.

Despite this, it’s hard to get just right. I know (I feel) the feeling I want to achieve, but I have to really think about the sort of scenes that will create it, at the book’s two climaxes. These become my guideposts for navigating my pantser writing ship: the big, emotional scenes that set the tone for the whole story and drive my progress. If I don’t nail them, then the whole story feels off the mark.

After some time flirting with a new idea, I’ve switched back to working on WIP#1, working-titled Drago Mafioso, and that’s why: I’ve figured out the emotional tone of the story and the big climax scenes, even though there’s still quite a lot else I don’t know about the story. With WIP#2 (which I’ve tentatively titled Downstream of the Sun), I got the opening chapter down but don’t yet know the climax scenes or the emotional tone driving the story, which left me feeling a bit lost about where to go next.

The two books I read most recently were Ally Carter’s Uncommon Criminals and Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Princess – which had very different emotional tones. I find it interesting, and useful, to think about what the tones were and how the authors achieved it; it’s not always the big highs or lows, sometimes it’s the subtle things.

Friendship in YA

The other day I had a flash of realization about why my first WIP wasn’t feeling quite right. I wanted a kickass heroine in the novel, but the way I had the two main characters set up, a guy and a girl, the girl wasn’t very kickass. It was the guy who had the kickass abilities, and even though the girl had her own unique thing she didn’t feel very kickass. So I thought, well, what if I make that one a girl? But I didn’t really feel like the first character would work very well as a guy, the way I had the motivations and romance thread between them planned.

It took me a while to consider a third option: what if neither character was male? What if, instead of being romantic interests, they became friends? The sort of friends you’d go to the ends of the earth with, like Sam and Frodo; or you’d do the hard things for, like in Code Name Verity; or it would break your heart to lose, like BBC’s Sherlock and Watson. Love-at-first-sight I-would-do-anything-for-you friends. There’d be romantic subplots, but not between each other, and the friendship would be the focal relationship of the novel.

Would that fly in YA, I wonder? It seems like in YA, the main relationship development is always a romantic one. Aside from Code Name Verity, I’m having trouble thinking of another YA where the main characters are simply friends, with no romantic undertones. Harry Potter kinda has that with Hermione and Ron, though the series started out as MG where relationships are friendships, not romances. Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork trilogy has a really strong friendship between two of the main characters, but the focal relationship of the plot is really the romantic one(s). And… I’ve gone through my whole Goodreads list and can’t come up with another where it’s a friendship that’s front-and-center.

Thoughts? Do you think readers would root as passionately for a friendship as a romance? Can you think of any other examples of strong central friendships in YA?

Worldbuilding more

I’ve talked a bit about worldbuilding before. This has always been a weak area for me, especially during first drafts. I’ve always been able to get away with just forging ahead with the story because it’s set in some version of our own world where I know how things all work, even if some of the details of it are a little changed. The worldbuilding side of things didn’t interest me that much, getting all the nitpicky bits figured out. I wanted to tell the story, focus on the plot and characters, and the world was background noise. Sure, it was necessary, the narrative would be really quiet and flat without it, but it wasn’t the focus, it wasn’t vital to telling the story.

The WIP I’m currently focused on is a hard sci-fi, which is a bit of a departure for me. It’s set in a future post-space-colonization era, and opens on Jupiter’s moon Callisto. It couldn’t get a whole lot farther from my usual genre. It also couldn’t require much more worldbuilding, short of writing a high fantasy, which I also avoid because of all the worldbuilding involved.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t’ve even considered it… but lately I’ve been on a bit of a space kick, and it was the perfect setting for the character I wanted to write. This is often where my books start: I know the type of character I want as my protagonist, and I build the story – and the world – around her. Stars at Midnight ended up in a future post-plague world because it didn’t work to have an assassin’s guild in a modern city. This new one is in a future space setting because that’s how I think the new character will be most believable.

The downside is… I’ve spent just as much, and possibly more, time thinking about the world than I have actually writing anything. There is SO much to consider, and so much to research. On the one hand, it’s fascinating. I’ve learned a lot about the solar system, thought lots about the challenges facing a colony on a non-life-supporting planet, or how to power a ship through space. On the other hand… it’s a lot of work, and not where I want to be spending my time. I want to tell the story!

But I also try to minimize the amount of time I spend in revisions, because that’s not my favourite, either. So, knowing this is a weakness of mine, better to spend the time figuring it all out now than trying to go back and insert it or fix my errors later. Once the world’s in place, it can be full steam ahead.

And the winner is….

Oh my gosh, I have been ITCHING to share this news – and now I can! I have officially signed with an agent! I am so excited to announce I am now represented by the wonderful Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary Services! (And if all those exclamation points aren’t an indication of my level of enthusiasm, I don’t know what would be.)

Rachael actually found me by way of Cupid Literary Connection’s Blind Speed Dating Contest (remember my entry there for Stars at Midnight, back in February?) I got three requests on my entry, one of which was from Gina Panettieri of Talcott Notch. Gina really enjoyed my manuscript and passed it on to Rachael, who also loved it, and offered representation. After talking with Rachael on the phone I knew she was just what I was hoping to find in an agent. I think she’ll be a great partner for me and my stories!

The funny thing is: I would never have queried either Gina or Rachael just on my own. I wouldn’t’ve thought they’d be likely to be interested, just based on their bios on their website. Which just goes to show… well, two things. First, reading is so subjective, and it’s REALLY hard to sum up what appeals to you in a few sentences (and even then, you’ll still like stuff outside of it). It’s worth querying even people who seem to have only a loose interest in your genre. And two, contests work! I’m such a believer in query/pitch contests now. Unsurprisingly. :)

I’m going to close with some stats, because I always liked reading those when I was querying and reading announcements from newly-agented writers.

Manuscripts written, including Stars: 6
Manuscripts queried, including Stars: 3
Total queries sent for all MSs: 89
Total requests/queries: Magestone– 3/65; Secrets– 3/18; Stars– 4/6
Total contests entered: Secrets– 3; Stars– 2
Total requests from contests: Secrets– 3; Stars– 7

Scripts and opening night

Back in December one of my CPs, Charlee Vale, asked me to read a project she was working on. It was a script for a play, her graduate thesis. I’d never read a script before, and I’ve seen a few plays but not in quite a number of years now, but I’ve read plenty of stories and I’d loved Charlee’s novels that I’d read, so I agreed.

Let me tell you: reading a script is very different from reading a novel. For one thing, there isn’t any show. There’s barely any tell, even. There’s just the dialogue. All the showing, the movement and emotion, that’s all produced by the actors’ interpretations as they deliver the dialogue. It makes for an… interesting read. You have to change the way you think about the story, picture in your head the actors on the stage as you read their lines.

It was a beautiful story, as Charlee’s always are. She twines together two separate but related, mirroring narratives, about a couple in the distant (Greek) past whose souls have found each other again in the present, faced with a similar choice in both lives. I’m not sure I provided the strongest critique for it, given how unfamiliar the style was for me, but I hope it helped at least.

This past weekend Charlee’s play opened as a real live stage production. She posted it over at her blog, complete with photos. I would imagine this is the stage equivalent of your book’s release day, with all the excitement that accompanies it. So I just want to say, congrats, Charlee! It’s fantastic, and deserved. Hope you have many more!

Another idea, shiny and new

Last night, sort of unexpectedly, I wrote a thousand words of a new project. It was an idea that came to me a couple of weeks ago and hasn’t left me alone since, and I finally caved and indulged it. The words came easily, in a sort of creative flow I haven’t really felt while working on my other WIP.

So now I’m looking at these two projects and wondering which to work on. On the one hand, I have over 9k written on the first, a clear sense of where it’s probably going, what comes next, and who my characters are. The second is barely started, I don’t know anything about it, what the conflict is, or stakes, or even who all the characters are.

But the second feels more alive and bright. I think I kind of like the main character more in the second. I think it’s got the potential for higher stakes, and also for deeper darkness. And, it’s flowing.

I’m not really sure whether this enthusiasm is just because the new idea is, well, new. And shiny. And I was feeling for my first WIP the usual doubts that tend to hit me at about the 10k mark. Or because the last month hasn’t been that great for fostering creativity and now some of that stuff is getting sorted out, the stress is lifting, and the creativity is flowing again and this just happened to be the project I opened up. Or if it’s because I really do feel the second story is more engaging, with a stronger main character.

I decided I’d let myself work on it a bit and see where it goes, in any case. I’ve promised my first WIP I’ll return, sooner or later. Some time apart will probably be good anyway – usually when I’m having doubts, I come back and reread it and am surprised at how good it actually is, and my enthusiasm for the story returns. And in the meantime I’ll have a creative outlet that’s also hopefully productive. Maybe once I have a few thousand written on the new project I’ll send them both to my CPs and get their opinion. :)

Life Distractions

Back in January, as part of my New Year’s reflections, I declared that 2013 would be my Year of Happening. It wasn’t so much an intention to change any particular habits of mine as it was me putting my foot down and telling the universe that this was the way it was going to be.

Well… the universe seems to have listened, and taken it one step further, apparently deciding to designate March as the Month of Happening. Because oh my gosh, have I been busy the past few weeks. I’ve had a couple awesome opportunities come up I’ve been trying to sort out working details for (and don’t want to mention till they’re finalized in case I jinx them). At the start of March was the Blind Speed Dating contest. I’ve been beta reading a couple of manuscripts and trying to keep up with CPs. D and I are supposed to be moving at the start of April and have been house-hunting (and still don’t have a new house confirmed!). My dad is retiring in a week. And through all this I’ve been working a part-time job… full-time over March Break, for all the shifts I covered for vacationers then.

I’ve tried to fit in some writing in there, a bit. I’ve gotten started on my next story, novel #7, but in a month I’ve only managed to put down just over 9k words. (For comparison, I drafted the whole of Stars in two months.) Besides a lack of time, part of my problem this month has been stress and scattered thoughts.

I’m not one of those people, unfortunately, who can butt-in-chair and just deal with crappy bits in revisions. I wish I could do that, because it’d make writing through Life Distractions so much easier. But if I get to the end and I have a crappy manuscript, I know (from experience) I’ll just shelve it and move on to the next one; I don’t have the patience for fixing crap. So I’m careful when I’m drafting to put the thought into planning each scene before I write it so at the end I have a fairly clean first draft.

I’ve had SO MUCH to think about this month that even though I’ve still been going for my daily walks, all my thinking time has been spent on the other stuff that’s been going on and I couldn’t stay focused long enough to plan out scenes. I rather miss writing, having a project to work on in the evenings. The good news is that a lot of this Happening will be sorting itself out soon, one way or another, and things will (hopefully!) quiet down enough to let me get back to thinking about important stuff again. :)