Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pick Yer Side

Seems to me there are two camps when it comes to reading – or writing for that matter. And that is whether you're attracted to plot or style.

Me, I'm a plot person. It's a story that draws me in to a book and latches on. What drives me forward is wanting to know what's going to happen next. It's also what I focus on first when I write. I want to make sure the story flows well from one event to another on a train that will lead to the ending.

A lot of plot stories end up being in a specific genre: paranormal, fantasy, science fiction and the like. Mysteries and such also fall into this category, most of the time.

Then there are those kinds of people who get wrapped up in the writing. They are blown away by the craft of an author and the lyricism of the writing. They are known for things like great and interesting characters, long passages of characters musing or thinking about things and lost of descriptive passages.

A lot of times style books are categorized as contemporary or literary fiction.

Now, there aren't exactly lines between these. They blur together. Ideally, a writer will be fantastic in both of these. But, just like everyone else, writers have their strengths and weaknesses. They lean to one side or the other. Just like readers do.

Now, I love plot. That's the main reason I will continue to read a book. It's the things that's also the hardest for me to overlook in a book. That doesn't mean that I don't love the writing. It just means I'm more likely to put down a book if the plot is bad or uninteresting than if the writing sucks. If the plot is good and I want to know what's going to happen, I'll forgive bad writing. That's not to say that I don't love some things because they are written so beautifully or haven't shrugged at a story that was heavy on plot.

So what about you guys? Do you think you're one or the other? Is there one you gravitate toward? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I am an actor

First, to announce the winner of my Midsummer's Giveaway Hop. Much congratulations are in order to Maureen! She won up to a $15 book of her choice. Congrats.

Also, because I couldn't help but fall prey to a sad story, so I'm going to send out a second, $10 book to Tiffany Falick, who hasn't been able to get books because of a house fire. So, if she responds, I'll gladly send out another book.

Now, on to today's post (which I saved from Friday).

I am an actor. I'm not talking about the kinds that are in plays and dreams of having a starring role in a movie. Although, I do admit I was in plays in high school and I think it may be fun to be on the silver screen. I'm talking about writers.

Before you run away writing me off as crazy, hear me out. I think there are two kinds of writers: those who imagine and those who act when it comes to trying to be descriptive.

I act. I sit there and make faces with my characters, sweep my hands with their gestures and cry when they do. I can't help it. To that point, the baristas at Rawhide Coffee love it. They're always laughing at me when I look particularly intense. I feel like I need to get into my characters' heads. I want to feel what they feel, and it's something that helps me connect. Sometimes I really want to actually experience it, to really know how it feels.

One time, I was particularly unhappy looking when a friend (and one of the baristas) Scott asked if I was feeling okay. I told him I was trying to figure out what is was like to get kicked in the face. (He Laughed.) Then I asked if he'd ever been kicked in the face. He hadn't, but that didn't stop him from offering to kick another friend in the face to have them tell me what it feels like.

There are other writers who retreat into their minds to come up with the details. Maybe my imagination isn't that good. Maybe it's just the actor in me needing to come out when I write.

I don't think either way is right or wrong. There are different ways to imagine the things that happen to the characters we create. The important thing is, that we come up with something we can believe in.

So the big question for all my writers out there, which are you? Or, do you do something entirely different?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Revenge of the Word Nerds

For my Midsummer Giveaway, click here.

I fully admit I am a word nerd. I love them. I'm the person who's interested the the etymology, the definition and the synonyms.

Most of all though, I generally fall prey to one of my biggest pet peeves: using the wrong word. There are a lot of people who use words interchangeably that mean completely different things. A lot of people don't care that when they say "I feel nauseous" they really mean "I feel nauseated," but I do.

Half the thrill of writing is choosing the perfect word. Getting that one bit a a sentence just right, so that it means just what you want it to. Words are your tools, so use them well. One critique I see over and over from agents is about using words correctly. If you use words incorrectly, how are you supposed to impress anyone?

Spend some time the next time your writing to not settle. Don't use a word until it's perfect. Words are precious, treat them as such.

Tell me, are you one of the word nerds? Or do you not think about getting the precise word?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop

Why hello, everyone! It's been a while since I did a hop, so I thought I would correct that.

Today, I'm going to be giving away a $15 book from The Book Depository, just so that this can be international. I may change where I send it from if you live in the US or Canada, though. But really, it's just so you might have them sooner (they take a long time to ship, no?)

I love and hate summer at the same time. It's a great time of year where kids are free from school and the time for a fling. But, summers can be bitter sweet too. And so, I want you to tell me what your favorite summer memory is. It can be small, or it can be more in depth. It's up to here.

So, here's what you do to win:

Mandatory: Be a blog follower, leave a comment with your favorite summer memory, fill out the form.

Extra: Be a twitter follower (@brennabraaten)

That's all! The form is below, make sure you answer all the questions, don't forget to comment, and GOOD LUCK!! Winner will be announced the day after the giveaway, and will have 24 hours to respond before I choose another winner.

Please note: If the form isn't working, just answer the question and leave your name and email in the comments, and I'll add it to the list. Sorry if there are problems.



Summer Goals

For everyone in the northern hemisphere, it's summer. Kids are off of school, pools are in full swing and people are planning vacations.

For my summer, I'm making a list of things I want to have accomplished. My goal is by the first of September. That's a good enough date that I feel like I can finish off my list and not too much time that I feel it's arbitrary. So, here's my list:

  1. Figure out my next move in life. This is somewhat related to writing, but mostly related to having money for food. I have some big decisions to make, and I'd love to have a plan.
  2. Complete edits on my WIP. By that I mean the first two passes, and have it off to my critique partner for her thoughts. This is my second biggest goal, because I really want to start getting this together. 
  3. Read 15 books. Yeah, I have reading goals. And, I'm behind on my yearly goal, so I want to get to reading. I have a long list of books I want to read, so I need to get cracking.
  4. Keep up with my blogging. I don't necessarily want to do more blogging, I just want to stay regular. I also want to spend more time reading other people's blogs. I want to be more involved.
So there you go, four things I want to do over the summer. What about you guys? Do you have any goals for this summer? Are they personal- or writing-oriented? Also, think my goals are reasonable? Let me know!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Breaking up with your Manuscript

Have I mentioned I wrote a book? Yeah, I'm sure I did. I celebrated with a fantastic martini and this crazy appetizer called Reuben Eggrolls. They are what you think, and they were delicious.

So, now what? I'm taking a break. That's right, a nice, long, well-deserved break.

Analogy time: The time after you finish a manuscript is like dating.

At first, you're in the "honeymoon phase" where everything is shiny and gorgeous and you love each other and even your crap doesn't stink. You think this relationship will go the distance. This is a terrible time to edit. You may not think every line is gold, but there are some whoppers in there that are definitely being overlooked.

We move on to the comfortable phase, where there are some little things that are wrong. You smile, correct them, and giggle at how adorable it is. You don't really see anything too terrible with what they've done. It's going well. Still not a good time to edit.

Then we move on to the annoyed phase. This is the phase where every little thing is starting to tick you off. Your manuscript is leaving hair products strewn on the counter or keeps "forgetting" to put away the clean dishes. You really just want to kick the crap out of it. This is a better time to edit. You can see the flaws, and see how it's not going to go the distance.

Then we have the inevitable break-up. It's a glorious day when you finally work up the nerve to talk to your manuscript, let it know that you're sorry but it's just not going to work. There is a freedom there, like a weight has finally been lifted off your shoulders. Here is the point where you hate everything about your manuscript, and you get to make it better. You get to shape it into the perfect date, with all that witty dialog and huge, uh, descriptions? You are now in the perfect mindset to rip everything apart and sew it back together so it's infinitesimally better.

The exciting part about writing is that you can do this with your writing without all that awkward being around your manuscript. You go through all these steps while cheating on it with other fun activities - like working out or remembering to actually cook dinner. It's important to take breaks when it comes to writing. It's a way to separate yourself from your writing. Because we know the pitfalls of getting married during the honeymoon stage and having things fall apart.

No shotgun weddings, please.

The funny thing for me is, I hadn't done anything nuts like try to write a novel in a month, so I wasn't frazzled, but I had been pushing myself hard and spending a lot of time on writing. Now, because I can't be spending that time on my manuscript, I have no idea what to do now. What did I do before I hunkered down and really got to work?

So do you guys do this as well? Or are you fantastic and know what you need to do right after you stop writing. Do you start to work on a different project while you wait on this one? I want to hear it!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I wrote a book!

Yeah, last night I finished the draft of my WIP. Just in time for my deadline, I'll have you know. But now. . . What do I do?

A large part of me doesn't realize it's done. That I have essentially written "The End" in all it's glory at the end of my 76,000-some word manuscript. But it doesn't feel like that. I still feel like after work today I'll grab my computer, head to my favorite coffee shop and start #wordmongering away. Only, then I think, what will I work on?

Finishing a manuscript is difficult. It's not as easy as I'd expect it to be. This is the third story I've ever actually reached the end on. The first was a 6-year venture I started when I was about 11 years old, which was so under developed and also written on paper. The second was my very first NaNoWriMo in 2006 where the story was trash but I finished it with prodding from my CP because she was vicariously living through me.

But this manuscript is different. This one is special. I still like it, which is completely new. I'm shocked and amazed by that simple fact. I still think it can get better but I don't think it's not salvageable. That scares and delights me.

I don't know what to do with myself now though. What should I do to celebrate before I kick myself into gear and start editing? I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO!

So, I'm turning to all of you. What should I do to celebrate finishing my draft. PLEASE let me know in the comments.*

*Please, nothing illegal.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Things Fall Apart

No, I'm not talking about that book you may have read. You know, the one written by Chinua Achebe. I think I had to read it in middle school. I didn't, though. Anyway, today we're talking about me.

I had a meltdown this weekend. Like one of those I'm crying in the corner in the fetal position kind of meltdowns.

See, on Saturday I started writing the climax of my current WIP, THE STAR RUBY, and everything was going great. I broke for lunch, tried to get back to writing and stopped dead. I realized the ending I thought I was going to was complete crap, and so I had no idea where I was going. Between a rock and a hard place didn't even begin to cover the hole I'd dug for myself.

I called my critique partner. We talked on the phone for quite a while. I tried to explain what my problem was, but she hadn't read it and so couldn't give fully-formed advice. I was on my own. Then, I got some very good advice from her and this crazy fish. They convinced me to take the night off. I wasn't getting anything done on my manuscript and I was only succeeding in making my mental state worse. I had myself so freaked out I was nearly hyperventilating.

So here it goes: Things fall apart. They do. It's okay. It's not the end of the world. My ending is going to be so much better, more dramatic and more satisfying thanks to everything falling apart. It's going to be okay. Take a deep breath and walk away. I went and enjoyed some time with friends and worked on a drawing. You should get away too.

Things fall apart for a reason: They weren't working. It's a good thing. I know it's not going to feel like it. It will feel like the end of the world. At least it did for me. That's when you know you're better off walking away and getting something else done.

I'm happy to report things are now back on track for my WIP. I may actually finish by my completely arbitrary Wednesday deadline. Or I might not. *shrug*

So tell me, have things ever fallen apart on you so bad you think it's the end of the world? If so, how did you cope?

Friday, June 10, 2011

The art of less

I've been thinking about this for a while now, especially this week. I've become a Nazi when it comes to over-using words, which is a good thing. Editors are always critiquing writers when it comes to using five words when one will accomplish the same. It's something that I've struggled with for years.

See, I'm in journalism. My editor puts it this way: "Every extra word you use costs you a quarter." Journalism was founded on being succinct and getting straight to the point up front because a lot of early news stories were transmitted by telegraph, which during war could be cut off. Journalists needed to get their stories in as quick as possible or risk not getting the story at all. It's something that we pride ourselves on.

My creative side and my journalistic side have been at odds with each other in the past, but I'm finally coming to a point where I have been paying very close attention to extra words and editing them out. It could have something to do with the fact I write, on average, about a dozen articles per week. So, without further ado, some of the things I look for went needing to pare down writing:

  1. That. It's one of those words where 90 percent of the time, you don't need it. For example: I needed to get to the mall that you took me to last week. You can cut the that completely and have it still make sense. So you should.

  2. Adverbs. Yeah, you've heard this before. Cut them out if they aren't necessary. Nine times out of ten you can replace an adverb (modifier of a verb) by strengthening the verb. There are times when you shouldn't (see: Sarah's awesome blogpost To Adverb, or not to Adverb for times when you should). Personally, this may be the one I struggle with the most. You have to find your own balance of when they should be used and when not to.

  3. Mixing around modifiers. This may get a little technical, but bear with me. Modifiers are words or phrases that describe other words or phrases. They can come before or after what they modify, but generally after needs a preposition. For example: "The keeper of my mother" vs. "My mother's keeper." You dropped two words right there.

    Now you may be asking, "But how does two words make a difference?" Think of it this way: If you cut two words per page in a 300-page manuscript, that's 600 words. See? These things add up. Especially because you can probably cut more than two per page. Come on, you cut two in one sentence. But then again, you are brilliant.

  4. Cut the useless words. There are phrases many people, including me, use that are just plain superfluous. I have a two-page list with three columns of text each of extra words. Take: (adequate) enough, (and) moreover, (angry) clash, (absolutely) complete, (advance) planning, (ask) the question. . . And that's only one-quarter of the As. Oh yes – there are lots of them. But you'll have to catch most of them yourself. So, carefully consider your writing when you're editing. Think, "Does this word add anything to this sentence? If I cut it, would it make sense?" If the answer is yes, get that machete ready.
I would come up with a fifth to have a nice balanced list, but I apparently get stuck at four. *shrug*

So what do you guys think? Was this helpful? Is this something you do? Do you worry about cutting unnecessary words as fervently as I do? I'd love to know!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

THE LAST LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPE Review

THE LAST LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPE by Maureen Johnson



From Goodreads: Ginny Blackstone thought that the biggest adventure of her life was behind her. She spent last summer traveling around Europe, following the tasks her aunt Peg laid out in a series of letters before she died. When someone stole Ginny's backpack—and the last little blue envelope inside—she resigned herself to never knowing how it was supposed to end.
Months later, a mysterious boy contacts Ginny from London, saying he's found her bag. Finally, Ginny can finish what she started. But instead of ending her journey, the last letter starts a new adventure—one filled with old friends, new loves, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Ginny finds she must hold on to her wits . . . and her heart. This time, there are no instructions.


Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by HarperTeen




LLBE is one of those books. The ones you just have to read because the first was so enjoyable. I adored 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES and I could wait to read LLBE. And I wasn't disappointed.

Disclaimer: If you haven't read 13LBE, you may not want to read this for light spoilers. There are no spoilers for LLBE, however.

Cover: Okay, the cover has not much to do with the book, but it's pretty. It's got the envelope of the last of the 13 letters. You know, that one that was lost? Well, it's pretty if nothing else.

Plot/writing: The story of the last great adventure on which Ginny's aunt takes her. It's the final task that she didn't know anything about. Until now. Enter a mysterious man asking her to return to London to meet him and to get the stolen letter. But, this stranger wants more than Ginny bargained for, and she's off on a crazy adventure.

I adored the story LLBE, although at times it was fairly predicable. Other times, however, it blew me away with the raw emotion that Johnson wrung into the words. One part had me crying. And yet, Johnson still manages all this with the brilliant and hilarious tone of a character I've come to cherish. Johnson's writing is straight-forward, giving enough detail to make me wonder at the world, but simple enough that I am not pulled away from what really matters: story.

Characters: We're back with our main character, Ginny, who is sweet, kind, a little naive and – although she wouldn't think so – a little odd. Johnson's has created an MC who doesn't necessarily perpetuate all the strange things that happen to her. They just happen, which is brilliant to watch unfold. Enter Keith, the lovable thief/playwright Keith. And while sexual tension between the two is abound, Keith is a bit more annoying than he was in the previous book. There are also two new characters who join the cast and the journey – the mysterious boy Oliver who is dead-set on getting to the end of the journey alive, and Ellis, who is Keith's new girlfriend. By the end I loved and hated them all, which is saying something. You will love these characters. Because, they are just that good.

Themes: I love that this book was not supposed to be a sequel. It was not supposed to exist at all, in fact. (At first, I thought how can there be a sequel? And then I was a little upset about how the new task fit in, almost a little too deus ex machina for me. And then, I couldn't imagine a better end to the first book than this.) This book came out of the fans asking for more. Although I only read the first book shortly before reading LLBE, I too would have demanded more.

And there sits Ginny, trying to work on her scholarship essays but can't. She's stuck, lost. She still misses her aunt and hasn't fully let it sink in. She's still grieving. This is a book about how she overcomes those feelings, finally gets closure with her aunt Peg, and decides to take a step forward for her future. It's a lovely ending to a rather odd story. And I loved it.

Overall: Maureen Johnson is a fantastic writer, and you will not be disappointed by this book if you read the last. Five of Five stars. Magnificent. I wouldn't mind reading a third book. You hear that, Maureen? I want a third book!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Darkness in YA

Like a lot of people, I was greatly surprised and hurt by this Wall Street Journal article about how there is too much darkness in Young Adult literature.

A lot of my feelings have been expressed by people that are much more influential than I am, which is good. These are the movers and the shakers, the experts in the YA field. Best sellers and people who are already published. But, I still feel like I have something I want to say.

All books – not just young adult literature – mimic the world we live in. And it's sad to say, there is a lot of darkness in the world today. We're living in a war that we've become desensitized to. Politics has become a he-said, she-said battle that relies on embarrassing or accusing an opponent. Crime is something with which we live.

And this is for all people. Kids themselves are forced into dealing with divorce, abuse, drugs, peer pressure, alcohol, sex. All of these things I went through when I was in high school. These are all things that are deemed "dark."

Art mimics life. I wish that it weren't true. I wish we could go back to a time when children were sheltered and everyone wasn't instantly suspicious of everyone else. That ideal 50s-era perfect family living in the suburbs is gone. It's not coming back.

I don't think YA – or any art form, for that matter – should be censored and called "too dark." Young adults can connect to these characters, who sometimes go through darker and more dangerous stuff than they do. I'm not naive enough to consider that some won't try to mimic the actions of books, that they think because a character made it through okay, they can too.

But, I think that we should give most kids credit that they'll learn from the books they read. I certainly did when I was in their place. In fact – I still do. And it doesn't matter the age group I'm reading. We can't continue to believe that our children are protected from these things. And I think we're harming them if we do. We need to give them tools to understand the world around them and help them deal with the hard decisions they are going to face. We can help them, or we can harm them.

Well, that's essentially my thoughts. What are yours? Do you think there is too much darkness in YA? Let me know in the comments.