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Monday, March 31, 2008

Published Writers Who Can't Get Agents

This is a great blog post by literary agent Lori Perkins that published or not, you'll want to read. Very interesting. I hope it drives you to be that marketable, excellent-writing-craft writer.

Published Writers Who Can't Get Agents

Friday, March 28, 2008

Random Writing Q and A

The faboo writers at the FAITH blog ask me some great writing questions.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Evolution of Chick Lit

I’m on Tina Ann Forkner’s blog, talking about chick lit in the CBA, and where I think it's going. Anyone who writes humorous women's fiction might want to check it out.

Update: Someone hijacked Tina's blog and she switched to Wordpress, but lost the guest blog post. So, I'm posting it here. Enjoy!

The evolution of chick lit

We’ve all heard it—chick lit is dead. And let’s face it, after a while, it’s a bit tiring to read about yet another designer-clad, latte-chugging single girl in the city.

Some people don’t realize that chick lit has always been a subgenre of women’s fiction. Yup, that angsty stuff.

Think about it—it’s about a woman/girl’s personal journey. It’s not necessarily a romance. She travels from one state of mind, heart, job, and living situation into another. She might pick up a guy along the way, but not necessarily, because her existence doesn’t require male accompaniment.

But what sets chick lit apart—at least for me—is that it’s funny and it’s real. It’s about a fun, sometimes snarky heroine whose outlook on life, antics, and misfortunes always keep me highly entertained. It’s also about realistic women who aren’t necessarily nice and sweet—just like me.

So what’s a girl who likes funny women’s fiction to do?

Fear not! Chick lit isn’t dead. It’s just evolving.

Call it growing pains. We’ve seen lots of materialistic heroines (just like how all babies look alike, right?), now we’re starting to see a greater variety in characters as the genre matures. I mean, look at my novels—Asian American girls, a setting nowhere near as crowded as New York or LA, a jock (Lex), biologist (Trish), executive (Venus), and a chef (Jenn). No designer labels here (except maybe on Trish’s back, when she happens to get a bonus check at work).

I know I’m not the only one who likes humorous women’s fiction, and publishers are responding. They don’t call it chick lit—it’s women’s fiction or contemporary fiction. It’s not always in first person or present tense. Fading out are the cartoon covers with vivid pink and green. (Although I have to admit a personal fondness for bubblegum pink and lime green, especially together.)

I think this evolution is a good thing. Sameness can be tiring for readers like me. I like reading about people and places different from what I know, and not always the same types of characters, the same types of settings.

I also like the moving away from first person present tense. It’s hard to do well, and it’s forcing writers to be more creative and vivid in their third person past tense. Plus, I like being in other characters’ points of view. Sometimes those subplots are as exciting as the main plot, and it’s hard to make readers care about a subplot when they’re never in the secondary character’s point of view.

Anyway, my point is to be on the lookout for new, unique chick lits on the shelves. They might be harder to spot, but you’ll be glad you found them.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Big Picture" Manuscript Critiques

I talk about how I do “big picture” manuscript critiques on Missy Tippens’ blog

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Top Ten Mistakes I See in Fiction Manuscripts

Come by and visit Gina Conroy’s blog for the top ten mistakes I see in fiction manuscripts.

Update: Sorry guys, originally I posted this on the 12th, but Gina's post is actually up TODAY, March 14th.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Those first lines

“The most important sentence in an article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence your article is dead. And if the second sentence doesn’t induce him to continue to the third sentence, it’s equally dead. Of such a progression of sentences, each tugging the reader forward until he is hooked, a writer constructs that fateful unit, the ‘lead.’”

--William Zinsser, On Writing Well

The quote is referring to nonfiction articles, but it applies equally well to your fiction manuscript’s opening hook.

There’s something about a terrific opening line that pulls me immediately into the story. It builds anticipation in the reader that this will be a GREAT story, not just an okay one, because the very first line is so intriguing.

Here are some examples of good opening lines:
Scene transitions – opening hooks

The opening of your manuscript is not the place to be lazy or sloppy with your writing. Make every sentence count, because that reader picking your book up in Barnes and Noble is only going to give you a page or two to decide if your book is worth buying and reading.

Make every sentence on those first two pages be as tightly written, as full of conflict, as interesting as you can make them.

You can expect to spend more time on your first chapter than on any of your other chapters, because it’s the most important part of your story. Allocate the time to make it as great as you can.

Make the first sentence intriguing. Make the second sentence even better. Make the third sentence interest the reader still more.

Use critique partners liberally until they’re complaining to you (although please remember to reciprocate, don’t be a selfish writer).

If you spend that extra time on those first lines, first pages, first chapter, your story will start winning contests, will garner editor and agent attention, will fly off the bookshelves.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

I'm at SORMAG blog today

Today, I give some hard advice for writers on the Shades of Romance blog.

Update: I corrected the wrong link.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Seven of Nine – uniqueness in your characters

I’m a HUGE Star Trek Voyager fan, and I’ve been watching the reruns on SpikeTV. I really like the character Seven of Nine.

For you non Star Trek fans, Seven is a human woman who was a Borg (mindless cyborg) for most of her life, but Captain Janeway rescued her from the Borg collective and is teaching her how to be an individual.

Much of her storyline is Seven learning to be a unique individual after being just like all the other mindless, unethical Borgs. Sometimes the situations she gets herself into are humorous, other times they are heartbreaking or bittersweet.

Seven is a good example of a character who already IS unique. She has two aspects her character that make her so unique:

(1) Her backstory as a Borg is already unusual
and
(2) her striving to become someone different gives the audience something to root for. Her goal of overcoming a complete LACK of individuality is a very different sort of character arc.

Seven’s example also teaches me, as a writer, to work harder to break out of the box when crafting my characters. My characters should also have an intriguing, unusual backstory, and then strive toward a personal goal.

Unique characters don’t have to be aggressive or outgoing. My favorite example of a unique literary character is Anne Elliot from Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Anne is a very quiet character, yet she stands out from other characters:

(1) She has a strong emotional backstory. She turned down the one man she loved at the pressure of her family, and has regretted it ever since. What romance reader wouldn’t love a backstory like that?

(2) She has a strong personal goal in the story. The man she spurned returns and is attracted to another woman completely unlike herself—a woman of determined, headstrong opinions and playful willfulness. Yet Anne strives to remain true to her own personality, to not give in to despair. She doesn’t change who she was and she remains confident in her own sense of self-worth, despite the painful things that happen to her and her disagreeable family.

This sort of character might not work in today’s modern publishing industry, but Anne Elliot illustrates that a quiet character can still be unique and memorable, as long as she has those two elements.

I want to challenge you, as a writer, to look at your own characters and see if they’re unique and memorable. Think of your favorite characters from fiction—whether it’s Scarlett O’Hara or Stephanie Plum, James Bond or Hercule Poirot. Are your own characters as unique? Do they stand out from the pack?

Look at New York Times Bestsellers:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen—the hero, Jacob, had lost his parents and walked out of his veterinary exams and joined a second-rate circus.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See—two women deepen their friendship over the years through the use of nu shu, a secret language among women, painted on a fan.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards—a man secretly gives away his newborn daughter, who has Downs Syndrome, while keeping her healthy fraternal twin brother.

While not copying the story elements, try to capture the kind of color and vivacity of those characters in your own characters.

Utilize your critique partners and ask for hard, honest truth. Is your character really different? Does she have a unique backstory and a strong character goal for your story (while this wasn’t as necessary in older works of fiction, it’s strongly encouraged for debut novelists wanting to break into publishing now)?

What can you do to MAKE your characters more brilliant or defined? Maybe give them a deeper backstory? Maybe give them a more dire personal goal?

A truly unique character will make an agent or editor stand up and take notice from the query letter alone. With a little bit of intensive thought and brainstorming, you can make your own characters colorful and memorable.
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