Elements of a Great Story – Pacing

This month on Aussie Owned we’re looking at the elements of a great story. I chose pacing because it’s one of my favourite elements of story, and one I have struggled with from time to time — particularly when I was a wee baby writer working on my first novel. (I liked to overshare about the day-to-day of my characters’ lives, you guys. No, I loved it. I was still getting to know them, and that’s fine in a first draft — but some of those scenes had to go because, ye gods, they were boring.)

Pacing is, simply, how fast the story unfolds. The “right” pacing varies depending on the requirements of your story. Some stories take you along like you’re old friends going for a stroll along the beach, slowly immersing you in events until you’re invested (before probably sucking the sand out from under you or smashing you with a wave). Other stories are the equivalent of riding a runaway stallion, all thundering hooves and branches slapping you in the face and maybe, if you’re lucky, the chance to pause and eat some grass at some point.

Okay, I’ll stop with the terrible similes!

The tools for adjusting a story’s pacing are varied; action and dialogue speed the story up, while description slows it down. Short sentences and paragraphs speed it up; long sentences and paragraphs slow it down. I think it’s best expressed by one of my favourite writers (who writes fast-paced speculative fiction and gives the best writing advice I’ve found on the internet), Chuck Wendig.

Further reading … but not, like, in a boring way

I love to give book recommendations, and, happily, I can readily bring to mind two five-star favourites with very different levels of pacing. (Both are speculative fiction, because that’s how I roll.)

The first is Aussie urban fantasy Shadows by Paula Weston (and in fact the whole Rephaim series). The four books of this series are set over the course of a couple of weeks. Sure, there are flashbacks, particularly in the last one, but still. It really gives you a sense for how exhausted the characters must be, the urgency of the storyline. When they had a chance to pause for food or a sleep I was relieved on their behalf! I can’t recommend this series highly enough.

 

The second book I’m recommending is one I just finished, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. This man is a world-building, story-crafting genius. I strongly recommend his works if you like your fantasy on the EPIC side of epic — Goodreads tells me the hardcover of The Way of Kings is over 1000 pages. (I listened to this on audiobook and it was 45+ hours long.) Because Sanderson spends so much time building his worlds and layering them with backstory and foreshadowing, the books are immersive and the build of tension is slower than in some other stories, but the stakes just keep getting higher and higher. And there are flashes of action that keep you gripped.

 


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer whose latest urban fantasy, False Awakening, hits the shelves at the end of August. Preorders are now available from your favourite ebook retailers.

Advice, originality and vampires

You think I’d know better than to take the last post slot of the month when we’re doing an advice theme. By this point, dear reader, you’ve seen all sorts of excellent “what I wish I knew” advice posts — and my main messages to my younger self would be very similar to those already described:

So I considered my main advice to younger reader me, and decided it would be “one format of books is not better than another — and, BTW, audiobooks are awesome so get onto that”. But I’ve blogged about the audiobook thing here too.

Given the situation, I lamented to a friend that “being original at this point is impossible”. His reply? “Sounds like a good point in itself.”

Thank you, sir. *doffs hat*

Originality and vampires

One of the things I struggled with when I first started seriously trying to write was that I wanted to write urban fantasy, and I loved vampire stories — but, by this point Twilight was a huge hit, and everyone was writing vampire stories. How on earth could I tell a new story in a market so saturated? (I actually found my plot notes for my vampire novel the other day. It’s still tempting, not gonna lie.)

In the end, I decided on fae instead, as something a little fresher, and Isla’s Inheritance was the ultimate result. But Isla’s ability to see and manipulate emotions was originally born out of the idea of a psychic vampire. Her ability to create a supernatural human servant is evocative of Dracula’s ability to create human slaves (though her cousin gets a better deal than poor Renfield). In other words, I took existing ideas, jumbled them around and came up with something new.

 

Source: Goodreads

Obviously, the state of the market is a factor if your ultimate goal is to publish traditionally. If a publisher already has a vampire story on the books, they don’t need another one competing with the first. But that doesn’t mean that two books about vampires are fungible (I love that word; so fun to say). They aren’t interchangeable. Just because Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire, that doesn’t mean that The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black is unoriginal. (Anything but.)

Originality and major movie franchises

I found a great example of the way that one idea can give rise to two very different, and wildly successful, stories. Here is a synopsis for your consideration:

I read that and immediately thought of Harry Potter. But it is, of course, also a description of Luke Skywalker’s journey in Star Wars.

Originality and advice

So, coming back to our post theme this month, what’s the take-home message for my younger self?

Whether you’re sitting down to write your first book or struggling to write your seventh, it is important to write something you are passionate about. At the very least, those other books on the same subject as yours don’t have the thing that your book has: your voice.

Stop looking for excuses.

Just write the book.


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer whose fifth book, False Awakening, is scheduled for release at the end of August. 

From Query to Publication – Six Stages of Emotion

Are you a writer? Have you been busily squirreling away words in secret while the rest of your household sleeps? Maybe you’re at that uncertain point where you’re thinking of writing a novel, of taking the leap into a pool of words powerful enough to build new kingdoms and birth new people. Yes? YES? Do it! Take the plunge! It’s completely and utterly magical. It will ensnare you, captivate you. And it will catapult you down a raging river of unchecked emotion.

photo-by-carl-cerstrand-on-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Carl Cerstrand on Unsplash

I’m new to this publishing gig. My first novel is due for release in just a few weeks (Yay! Yikes! Gulp!), but I’m already well familiar with the emotional ups and downs that come with bringing a book baby into the world. So strap on your floaties (or maybe a life vest) and hold on tight as I take you through the six stages of the traditional publication journey’s Raging River of Emotions. First comes …

1. The Calm on the River Bank (Emotions = sense of achievement / satisfaction)

After months, maybe years, of self doubt, procrastination, and cleaning dirt from under your fingernails after all the times you’ve had to dig yourself out of a plot hole, you’ve finished your novel! Big pat on the back. You should be proud. This is a great achievement. Writing an entire novel is no small feat. But now what? How do you release it into the big wide world? Well, you must dip your toes into …

2. The Churning Channel of Submissions (Emotions = confusion / doubt)

Whether you’re querying agents or submitting your manuscript directly to editors and publishers, you’ll need to decide WHO to send it to. Which agent is a good fit for you as a writer? Which editors or publishers are looking for your kind of story? Confusion abounds as you sift through agent and editor databases, and your eyes glaze over as you try to read yet another set of submission guidelines. But, with perseverance – and copious cups of triple shot coffee – you’ll eventually have a list of suitable agents, editors, and publishers. You then dutifully send out your query in small batches like all the query gurus have advised you to do. And you float down river into …

3. The Query Rapids

photo-by-jecc81rocc82me-prax-on-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Jérôme Prax on Unsplash

This treacherous three-stage stretch of water will take you through a looping cycle of emotions, starting with …

  • The Waiting Wetlands (Emotions = frustration / impatience)

This is a long, dull, and trying section of the river as you wait to hear back from agents and publishers. Response times vary hugely. You might luck in and hear within a couple of weeks. Or you might still be waiting eight months down the track. It might be wise to take up yoga or Pilates. I’ve heard it’s good for managing stress levels. It’ll come in handy when you hit …

  • The Falls of Rejection (Emotions = disappointment / doubt)

This is possibly the worst part of the Raging River of Emotions. No matter how prepared you think you are, this huge dip will wind you every time you drop down it (and you’re bound to drop down it a few times at least!). But you must hang on and push through. The publishing business is hugely subjective. What is a pass for one agent / editor might well excite another. If you’re lucky to get feedback, read it with a critical eye and apply accordingly. Oh, and maybe book an extra yoga class. It’ll help you paddle into …

  • The Upstream of Persistence (Emotions = cautious optimism / determination)

Once you’ve climbed back into your boat and wrung out your sopping T-shirt, as well as your badly bruised pride, you send out the next batch of queries and submissions. Because you are made of stern stuff and the world needs your story. Rinse and repeat step 3 until you develop RSI in your index finger from hitting the refresh button on your email inbox while waiting for …

4. THE Mouth of the River CALL! (Emotions = euphoria / excitement)

This! This is what you’ve been waiting for! Finally, you can see the vast, open publishing ocean ahead. And someone has offered to help you set sail across it. Someone who loves your story as much as you do and wants to take it to the far ends of the earth. They love your voice, your characters, your unusual style of punctuation. But first you’ll need to navigate through …

5. The Editing Tributaries (Emotions = confusion / self doubt / impatience)

You’ve signed the contract, sucked the last drop from your bottle of bubbly, and now the hard work begins. You’re asked to kill off a character, add an extra chapter, and get rid of that unusual punctuation style. It’s not uncommon to be a little confused at some editorial suggestions that come your way. Self doubt can often creep in here, but a sound collaborative editorial relationship is crucial to your book’s success. Ask questions and learn from the reasoning behind editorial suggestions, because it won’t be long before your book’s …

6. Release into the Big Book Ocean (Emotions = excitement / anxiety)

photo-by-nathan-hulsey-on-unsplash1.jpg

Photo by Nathan Hulsey on Unsplash

At last! Your book’s birthday has arrived. You can’t stop staring at the cover, and your friends and family can name every character in your book. Even Guido, the one-legged postman who makes a brief appearance in chapter six. It’s likely a time of mixed emotions. Excitement, anxiety, sense of pride, fear of failure. Revel in ALL of them, feel them in every corner of your writerly being, because they are proof you’ve breathed life into a new story and dared to share it with the world. And that’s something worth braving the query to publication Raging River of Emotions.

Tell us about your writing / publishing river of emotions. Does it look similar or have you had a different experience?


Kat Colmer Author

Kat Colmer is a Young and New Adult author, and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. Her debut YA The Third Kiss is due out with ENTANGLED TEEN in August 2017. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Chill, connect, cool it — advice for emerging authors

 

This month we’re talking about things we wish we knew when we first started out on our authoring journey. Some might see it as us dishing out advice for new writers. Whichever way you spin July’s topic here’s my top three things I’d tell younger me, you know if I had a time machine:

 

Chill, it’s just a first draft.

Spewing words onto the screen is perfect even if those words aren’t perfect. It doesn’t matter how well a story is written when we first write it. That initial draft is all about getting the story out. About telling it to ourself as the author, so we know who the characters are, what the plot is, and how everything comes together. No first draft is perfect and that’s okay! You can spend years going over that opening chapter trying to perfect it, but you know what? All that time is wasted because you’ll be so hung up on crafting wonderful words that you’re likely to never write the two most magical words ever, THE END.

Connect, it’s not a one man show.

Writing can be a lonely business, but it doesn’t have to, nor should it be that way. Books are a bit like children and that age old saying which goes with them; it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I believe it takes more than just one person to write a good book.

Go, grab your favourite book written by a big-5 best-selling author and turn to the acknowledgements. I can guarantee in the list of people that author thanks are other authors. These are usually the people who have supported him/her during the writing process. Many of us here at AO&R are critique partners, beta readers, and plotting soundboards for each other. Reach out, because finding the right writing mates is important.

Cool it, there’s no rush to submit.

Most writers think they have the best story, the best concept, a totally unique idea. And many do!! But rushing off to submit can do more harm than good. You see, most agents and publishers will only look at your work once, so don’t waste that opportunity on work that isn’t your best. There’s no need be concerned that you need to sub before X conference or Y date or Z holiday, or that you have to get in before someone else sells a similar story. Make sure that you submit the best possible product you can. That it’s been through multiple rounds of edits, it’s been read and critiqued by someone who knows about writing and is brutally honest, and that’s it’s been proofread. Of course the opposite can be said too, don’t over think it. You don’t want to hold onto that thing forever.

 

What about you, fellow writers, is there one burning piece of advice you’d give to your former self?

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Stacey Nash writes Aussie YA / NA. Her Oxley College Saga is a series of romances based in the fictional Oxley College on a university campus. Her Collective Series is YA trilogy about a girl who discovers secret sci-fi technology and the organisation who suppress it. To find out more about Stacey’s books or to connect with her on social media (where she tries to be engaging), check out these places: www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter, facebook.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Sex in the School Library – 5 Tips for YA Authors

As both a YA author and a high-school teacher librarian, I’m in the unique position to look at young adult literature from both a writer’s as well as a gatekeeper’s perspective. And when it comes to sexual content in YA, there are some things YA authors might be interested to know about getting their book into a school library.

Girl Reading

Image credit: Snufkin via StockSnap.io

Let’s Talk About Sex … in YA

Sex in young adult literature is not a new thing. Ever since Judy Blume’s YA novel Forever ruffled some moral feathers along with the bed sheets back in 1975, young adult literature has gone where a lot of parents, teachers, and other adults wish teens didn’t venture until they were well past the age of eighteen—namely behind that closed door where all that … well … you know … where all the hanky panky takes place (insert blush here).

Okay, brace yourselves, because according to a recent survey of Australian upper secondary students 69% of fifteen year olds have experienced some form of sexual activity, including intercourse. Since one of literature’s roles is to reflect society, it makes sense that fiction for young adults would include themes of sex and sexual discovery. If done well, sexual content in books for young adults can play an important role in the social and emotional development of teens. Whichever way you feel about sex in YA, it’s here to stay, and any school librarian will tell you that sexual content in fiction for young adults is pushing boundaries and becoming more explicit. Sarah J Maas’ A Court of Mist and Fury and Patrick Ness’ Release are only two such examples.

Now, school libraries and teacher librarians are at the forefront of YA literature advocacy. The only thing we love more than YA books is matching a YA title with the right reader (cue the warm-fuzzies *sigh*). But even though most school librarians take a strong anti-censorship, ‘open access to information’ stance, they must work within the ethos and guidelines of the schools that employ them. This means some school libraries won’t acquire certain YA titles because of their explicit content. YA authors might – or might not – want to keep this in mind when writing that ‘swinging-from-the-chandelier’ sex scene.

Awkward Kiss

Image credit: Agberto Guimaraes via StockSnap.io

Here are some things for YA authors to consider in relation to school libraries acquiring their book babies:

  • Most school libraries cater for a broad age range, which often means twelve year olds have access to the same books as eighteen year olds. Depending on the procedures in place to help students select developmentally appropriate material, some school libraries may choose not to acquire YA with overtly explicit sexual content. It’s not personal, trust me.

 

  • Don’t assume all faith-affiliated school libraries will only want ‘clean YA’. Yes, some faith-based schools will have conservative acquisitions policies, but you’ll find many that are more liberal.

 

  • When writing, ensure sexual content in your YA novel has a purpose; that it serves the plot and / or character development. If it’s simply there because you believe most teens your characters’ age are ‘doing it’, it most likely won’t read true to your story, and is less likely to be selected for a school library collection.

 

  • Aim for realistic depictions of teen sexual experience. Teen sexual encounters, whatever end of the heat scale they’re at, are often awkward and fumbly, filled with insecurity, naivety, and self doubt. They need to be put on the page with sensitivity, while taking care not to patronise the intended reader. School libraries are looking for YA texts that reflect their student body and community.

 

  • More emotion and less body parts, please! YA fiction by nature is usually written from a close point of view, and can therefore benefit from focusing more on the characters’ internalisations than the mechanics of the act. Young adults learn about the physical how-to of sex in primary school. It’s the emotional and relational aspects where sexual content in YA can play a powerful developmental role in young adults’ lives, and it’s this – as well as a good story, of course – that will win school librarians over.

What are your thoughts on sex in YA when it comes to school libraries? I’d love to hear about your experiences, whether you’re an author, librarian or reader.


Kat Colmer Author

Kat Colmer is a Young and New Adult author and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. Her debut YA The Third Kiss is due out with ENTANGLED TEEN in August 2017. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Instalove – my take.

coffee 1

We live in a world of instant gratification. Instant coffee. Instant noodles. Instant cameras. Instagram!

But what about instalove?  That ‘lerve’ so many YA protagonists seem to fall victim to in so many novels of late.  Does it work? Are you as a reader convinced?  And if we DO insist upon instalove, are we demeaning the female gender?  Are we saying that girls can’t see past a pretty face and hot bod?

 

Hmmnn… Let’s backtrack for a mo. Because I think I know where the problem lies.

First off: Does every YA novel need a romance?  I was reading an article the other day that says ‘not’. 

And it made me think… After all, each of my YA novels has indeed featured a romance. And the reason I did that is  – quite apart from the fact that I love a good old romance – it is part of the profile of the average teenager. It is imprinted into their collective DNA that between the ages of 14 and 17 that there will be a (fatalistic/obsessive/ intriguing/mild – choose the applicable qualifier)romantic  interest in the opposite or same gender. 

It’s a time when a match is lit to the hormones  – and it’s perfectly natural.  Does that mean every story has  to be a romance? No. Never.  But to me it’s always about world building. And if as the author you set out to recreate the YA world, then there are certain elements that must be included  or it won’t ring true.  In my humble opinion, romantic attraction or interest in some form has to be one of those inclusions.

love

 

Even if it’s not your protag who’s  suffering the pangs of unrequited love, it could be a friend. But I kinda think it has to be given a nod, has to be acknowledged or that world won’t reflect that world they inhabit.

And I think there are a lot of authors who think the same way. Except it comes across as : Oh wait! I’ve gotta add a romance!  

Aha! Problem found!

No, no, no!

You know what? You don’t gotta add anything if it doesn’t fit. And that’s despite what I just wrote above. What it must ‘gotta’  be is story first.

Throwing in a romance because you think it should be there – looks – and is – like it’s an afterthought. Plot your romance  along with the other part of your story. After 72 books, I say that I imagine myself hauling a thick entwined rope over my shoulder through the book. Each of those strands is another element of the story, and I weave those elements as I go.  The romance is one of those equal elements.  It’s not a stand alone. It’s woven into the fabric of the story.

However, we’re talking about instalove and so if your story allows for romance, or if it’s a straight romance, then there are ways you can manage the process without asking the reader to accept that one glance across the cafeteria is all it took and boom!  Stars and flashbulbs…  

instalove meme 1

My advice:

  • Take is slow and easy
  • Let them discover each other
  • Find where they connect
  • Let the verbal sparks fly. Get some snappy clever convo going on.
  • Let them see past the facade to what lies beneath
  • Weave this aspect into the story into the overall plot. This isn’t just another issue for your protag to contend with – it’s something that complicates and adds depth to your overall plotline.
  • This is his or her life. In real life we don’t stop and think, oh okay, I’ll stop trying to solve this mystery now and pop on my romance hat because it’s time to think about her/him. Really?  Doesn’t happen. It’s seamless. They overlap.

When it’s action time:

  • Remember they’re new to this. Fumbley and awkward.
  • Awkward is okay
  • Confusion is normal.

teens in love 1

So – I guess my point is that even if the love/romance isn’t your main theme or plot, it can still be a subplot. And why not? What better way to complicate a plot than to also have your protagonist agonising over that significant – or possible significant – other?

But, if you’re going to do it, do it well.  Or I’d be forced to agree with the article author and suggest you leave it out. 

kaz-profiles-022Multi award winning author Kaz Delaney has published 72 novels for kids, teens & adults over a 20 year period, many of them  published in several languages. Thirteen are YA novels and every one features a romance. Her latest is The Reluctant Jillaroo, Allen & Unwin, 2016 .  She is repped by JDM Management.

Tell Me Why? Villainous Motivations

As readers we are eternally curious about the characters who populate stories. But it’s not the surface stuff that intrigues us, is it? It’s the stuff underneath that has moulded them, formed their perspectives – the stuff that drives them. These deeply buried things are what makes a character intriguing.

Villains by definition often top that ‘intriguing character’ list.

villain-2103500__340

Villains do bad things and sure, we want to know ‘who?’ and ‘how?’ but that fades to insignificance beside the question ‘why?’. Why did he poison the cat? Why did she try to destroy Anya’s reputation? Why is he determined to terrify her to the point that she believes she’s insane? The answers to those questions are what will allow us readers to sleep well after closing the last page. We will be sated, satisfied, content.

So, is it ever enough for an author to brush that question away with a cavalier: ‘He/she is just a bad person’?

Short answer? No. Long answer? Never, nil, nada. Hardly ever. 🙂 

Why? (See? You wanted to know ‘why?’ 😉 ). Short answer: Readers want more. They’ll feel cheated. And, just quietly, be really, really ticked off with the author.

villain 3Long answer: True psychopaths are the scariest people ever. And yes, successful books have been written featuring them. But, at the risk of lighting a fuse under any psychopaths reading this, in the literary sense they’re kind of boring. Kill or torture for the sake of killing or torturing? Not going to hold my attention for long. If I’m not wondering ‘why’ then I’m out. You see, very few people are born bad, so the whole psychopath thing can often be a bit unrealistic and harder for the reader to relate. In fact studies back from the 1980s to the present all agree that a fair equation is that around 1% of western world people are true psychopaths – people who act without empathy or conscience.

Okay, so a more favourable equation would be nil%, but I’ll still take 1% over anything higher. Relatively speaking, it’s a low number. (Actually it’s terrifying if I say it in numbers – but it IS low really. Like 13 million psychopaths in 1.3 billion people. Whaaat!!! No, wait. Honestly, rest assured, despite that scary figure you’re unlikely to meet one walking down the street today. Or maybe not. Feeling lucky? Um, excuse me while I just nip out & lock my doors.)

So, what about all the other people – let’s call them villains –  who continue to star in our villain 2news reports or populate our gaols?  The non psychopaths. These people weren’t born bad. For the vast majority, things happened in their lives that affected their perspective and culminated in poorly made decisions to cause havoc and break laws (sociopaths). Or regular people who’ve got some kind of issue that burns them or has turned them.  These ‘things’ are called motivations. I.e,  a motive or reason for their decisions or behaviour.

Like everything else in life, villains come in all shapes and sizes. Moreover, they come in all manner of villainy from the sneaky troublemaker to the morally bankrupt multi murderer/serial killer. Some are charming (in their own evil way). Some slip into the shadowy background and exist in that disregarded no man’s land ‘under the radar’. And some will make our skin crawl. As authors and readers, we’ve met them all because fiction has an unfathomably higher percentage of villains of all kinds than real life. Thank goodness, yeah?

To recap that: In real life, ordinary people will do bad things. Just as in fiction, ordinary people will do bad things. The one thing these non psychopathic villains have in common is motivation; the reason that drives their actions.

Let’s look at some. Caveat: The list below is not comprehensive and there are heaps of lists on the net. However these are all motivations – and all open to your own twists and interpretation –  that I have either used or read, where used successfully, in YA novels.

  • Romance/jealousy.
  • Revenge for a perceived injustice
  • Repayment of past treatment.
  • Desperation
  • Peer acceptance
  • Peer domination
  • Need for Power (based on villains own suppressed power by others in his life)
  • Rivalry
  • Grief/Loss
  • Fear of Discovery
  • Fear
  • Pride
  • Greed

Don’t forget your villain can also have noble motivations – or motivations that began as noble. Most superhero villains were once good guys with noble motivations who somehow got off track. A villain with a noble/likeable side is most intriguing.

villain superheroes

Mix up your villains motivations to add more interest. Maybe your villain can’t help being a villain because he’s trapped?

Motivations are one of the major keystones to your story. They:

  • Reveal & distinguish character
  • Drive plot
  • Build drama
  • Give your story authenticity
  • Provide the impetus for character growth arc.

Motivations apply to every character, not just the villain. They drive the story. Dare I say they are the story. Every action and every reaction of your characters will be the result of their reasoning. And all reasoning is tempered by motivation.

Good Luck and Happy villaining!

kaz-profiles-022Multi award winning author Kaz Delaney has published 72 novels for kids, teens & adults over a 20 year period, many of them  published in several languages. Thirteen are YA novels and every one features a romance. Her latest is The Reluctant Jillaroo, Allen & Unwin, 2016 .  She is repped by JDM Management.