Monday, December 3, 2012

5 Writing Tips from Tana French

You can find the original article here.

I’m still very much in the apprentice stage of writing. I read somewhere that you need to write a million words before you know what you’re doing – so I’m headed that way, but I’m nowhere near there. But, for what they’re worth, here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

1. It’s OK to screw up. For me, this was the big revelation when I was writing my first book, In the Woods: I could get it wrong as many times as I needed to. I was coming from theatre, where you need to get it right every night, because this audience will probably never see the show again; it took me a while to realise that, until the book goes into print, it’s still rehearsal, where you can try whatever you need to try. If you rewrite a paragraph fifty times and forty-nine of them are terrible, that’s fine; you only need to get it right once.

2. Your character is always right. No real person thinks they’re being stupid or misguided or bigoted or evil or just plain wrong – so your characters can’t, either. If you’re writing a scene for a character with whom you disagree in every way, you still need to show how that character is absolutely justified in his or her own mind, or the scene will come across as being about the author’s views rather than about the character’s. You can’t make the judgement that your character is wrong; let the readers do that for themselves.

3. There’s no such thing as ‘men’ or ‘women’. There’s only the individual character you’re writing. One guy emailed me asking me how to write women, and I couldn’t answer, because I had no idea which woman he meant: me? Eleanor of Aquitaine? Lady Gaga? If you’re thinking of ‘men’ or ‘women’ as a monolithic group defined primarily by their sex, then you’re not thinking of them as individuals; so your character isn’t going to come out as an individual, but as a collection of stereotypes. Sure, there are differences between men and women on average – but you’re writing an individual, not an average. If your individual character is chatty on the phone or refuses to ask for directions, that needs to be because of who he or she is, not because of what he or she is. Write the person, not the genitalia.

4. Kill the dream sequence. My husband, who’s my first reader and who has a demon eye for sloppiness, says that a dream sequence is almost invariably either a repeat of something that’s already been done within the action, or a lazy way of doing something that should be done within the action. I think he’s let me get away with one dream in four books. At this point I just save us both time and kill them before he gets to them. You may well need to write the dream sequence, to help you towards an understanding of something in the book, but it’s very unlikely that anyone needs to read it.

5. Don’t be scared of ‘said’. Writers sometimes go looking for alternatives because they worry that ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ will feel repetitive if they’re used all the time, but I swear, they won’t. ‘Said’ is the default dialogue tag; readers don’t even notice it, the eye just skims over it. Anything else, on the other hand, does stick out. I read one book where the characters never said anything; instead they spent all their time grunting and bleating and hissing and cooing and growling and chirping and… It was like a menagerie in there. After a while I wasn’t even taking in the rest of the book, because that was all I could see: the dialogue tags. Unless your character is actually doing something specific that needs pointing out – shouting the line, say, or whispering it – it’s almost always a good idea to stick with ‘said’.

Tana French's new novel, Broken Harbor, publishes July 24 from Viking.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Week 4 Pep Talk: Aprilynne Pike

Last weekend I boarded a plane from Maryland to Phoenix with a brand-new deadline for a project I hadn’t anticipated.

A deadline I wasn’t convinced I would be able to make. Why? Because 2000 words a day has been my absolute max for the last couple of months. And now I suddenly had 10,000 words I needed to squeeze in somewhere. During the holidays, of course.

I wrote 6,700 words on that flight.

Which reminded me of two things. One, that you can write anywhere. Anywhere. And secondly—and the point of this email—it’s those days when the words just come that make the rest of the days worth it.

People approach NaNo in a lot of different ways. Some budget each day based on their personal schedules, some people have a minimum requirement and write every day, some people depend on a good, long several-thousand-word session every few days. Whatever your particular approach is, sometime during the month of November, you will have a day when you forget to look at your word count and when you do, you have way more words than you thought.

Being an author takes a lot of discipline, just like NaNo does. But the really wonderful part of writing is those days when the words just flow. That doesn’t mean that the other days aren’t important. Truth be told, they’re probably more important; certainly there are more of them. Most of your NaNo days are going to simply be about pounding your fingertips against the keyboard until you reach your word count and then slumping back in your chair and muttering, “Thank you, God.”

I know. I do it 80% of the time. :)

But sometimes inspiration really does strike, and it’s easy. No, it’s magic. It’s day like these that keep you going on a manuscript you believe in, or pushing through a manuscript you’re sick of looking at, or finishing that last few days of edits that ended up being more extensive than you anticipated. (That has happened to me six times in six books. ;)

One of the reasons I love NaNo is that it’s such a microcosm of an author’s life. I often see the statement go up on Twitter, “NaNoWriMo prepares you for NaNoWriLIFE,” and it’s so true. Although, admittedly, most authors don’t regularly write 50,000 words every month. :) It’s Author Boot Camp. And considering where we are in November, most of you are finding out it’s not easy.

And that doesn’t change.

But keep at it. Because when you’re done, it’s all worth it. To look back and see the book you built one word at a time. The thrill of finishing 50,000 words seriously doesn’t change whether you have written one book, or fifty. And the process is the same too. Every author builds their book one word at a time. One paragraph, one chapter.

Just like you.

And you’re almost there! So get to it! You’ve gone too far to finish the month with only half a book. And may you have a couple really great writing days in there to help you meet your goals!

Good Luck!
Aprilynne Pike is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of the recently-concluded WINGS series. In 2013 she will be releasing LIFE AFTER THEFT--a modern-day retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel--and EARTHBOUND--the first book in a new paranormal romance series. When not writing, Aprilynne can usually be found outside running; she also enjoys singing, acting, and (of course!) reading books about magic and kissing. Aprilynne lives in Arizona with her husband and four kids; she is enjoying the sunshine. For more information about Aprilynne, go to

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Week 3 Pep Talk: Janette Rallison

One of the most common complaints I hear from new writers is that they keep starting stories but never manage to finish them. I used to be the same way. As a teenager (before the age of personal computers) I bought all sorts of blank books, each time telling myself that this time, I was going to finish a story. I still have those blank books somewhere. Most of them only have a few dozen pages written in them. I don’t remember how I planned on ending any of them—which was probably part of my problem in the first place. I didn’t know where my story was going most of the time.

Writing 200 pages without knowing the basic tenets of your story is like driving 200 miles for a vacation without a map or street signs. You’ll get somewhere, but it may not be where you wanted to end up.

If you’re feeling that your story isn’t going anywhere, ask yourself if you have these basics in your story:

1) Your main character has a big problem.
2) S/he has a goal that s/he is working toward to solve her/his problem.
3) S/he has obstacles to overcome in this quest.
4) Someone or something is acting as an antagonist. (An antagonist isn’t necessarily a villain, just someone or something that opposes your main character’s goal.)
5) Lastly, there is a dire consequence if your character fails to achieve this goal. This could be death but doesn’t need to be so drastic. For a teenage girl, losing a friend is a dire consequence.

If you have these elements in place and still feel like you’re struggling through your story, try writing your scenes out of sequence and see if that solves the problem. For example, when I wrote Blue Eyes and Other Teenage Hazards, I knew there was going to be a scene where the main character was on a disastrous date, and another scene where she was hauled to the police station with a drunken friend. I wrote these high tension scenes first, then filled in what I needed to fill in to get from the beginning to those scenes.

As you write, you’ll sometimes realize that you need to change a major aspect in the story. For example, you might have written your main character as an only child and then realize that no, what you really need for the story to work is a younger sister who died when your character was young. Instead of going back and rewriting the beginning, make a note of your change on a revision list and keep writing as though you’d already made the change. Writing your story this way will keep you moving forward instead of stuck endlessly fixing things.

Keep at it! “The End” isn’t all that far away!

Janette Rallison (who is also sometimes CJ Hill when the mood strikes her) is an award-winning author of 13 young adult novels that have sold over a million copies. Her books have been on the IRA Young Adults’ Choices lists, Popular Picks, and many state reading lists. Most of her books are romantic comedies because hey, there is enough angst in real life, but there’s a drastic shortage of both humor and romance. On her blog,, she discusses the funny side of being a YA author. She lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids, and enough cats to classify her as eccentric. Her latest book, ERASING TIME, was released August 28th.

Friday, November 16, 2012

5 Writing Tips from Laini Taylor

You can find the original article on Publisher's Weekly here.


I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a small child, but I was thirty-five before I finished my first novel, because I have issues with perfectionism. It took me a long time to learn to finish what I start, and I’ve developed a lot of tools and tricks for keeping myself moving forward through a story when a big slice of my brain wants nothing so much as to stop and rewrite everything I’ve already written. It can be exhausting, but the upside is that I love to revise. The main thing I’ve learned is that we all have to learn to work with—and appreciate—the brain we’ve been given, and not waste time wishing things were easier.

1. Know what you love. Try imagining the book that would light your heart and mind on fire if you came across it in a bookstore—the one that would quicken your pulse and keep you up all night reading. What would it be? Details, details: when, where, what, who? Think it up, imagine it fully, then bring it forth. That’s the book you should be writing.

2. Never sit staring at a blank page or screen. If you find yourself stuck, write. Write about the scene you’re trying to write. Writing about is easier than writing, and chances are, it will give you your way in. You could try listing ten things that might happen next, or do a timed freewrite—fast, non-precious forward momentum; you don’t even have to read it afterward, but it might give you ideas. Try anything and everything. Never fall still, and don’t be lazy.

3. Eliminate distractions. Eliminate internet access. Find/create a place and time where you won’t be bothered. Noise-canceling headphones are great. Hotel-writing-sprees are even better if you can make that happen every once and a while: total dedicated writing time. During my second draft pass on my last book I made 20,000 words happen in a week, which is practically supernatural for me, and it would never have been possible without three nights in a hotel in my own city. It’s an incredible splurge, and a huge liberation, and you might just deserve it!

4. Get your characters talking. Dialogue is the place that books are most alive and forge the most direct connection with readers. It is also where we as writers discover our characters and allow them to become real. Get them talking. Don’t be precious. Write dialogues. Cultivate the attitude that every word you write need not end up in the book. Some things are just exercises, part of the process of discovery. Be willing to do more work than will show. The end result is all that matters. Be huge and generous and fearless.

5. Be an unstoppable force. Write with an imaginary machete strapped to your thigh. This is not wishy-washy, polite, drinking-tea-with-your-pinkie-sticking-out stuff. It’s who you want to be, your most powerful self. Write your books. Finish them, then make them better. Find the way. No one will make this dream come true for you but you.

Laini Taylor is a New York Times Best-Selling Author. Her book Days of Blood & Starlight (the follow-up to the equally outstanding Daughter of Smoke and Bone) is filled with dazzling writing, not to mention fantasy, suspense, and a page-turning story. You can find her on her blog here

Friday, November 9, 2012

Week 2 Pep Talk: Tom Leveen

Okay. It’s week two. The first flush of certainty of finishing this year’s NaNoWriMo has drained from your cramped little fingers, and you’re staring blankly at the wrong end of 50,000, wondering why you shouldn’t just give up and watch Big Bang Theory.
(Well, you should, because it’s hysterical, but I digress.)
I’ll give you two answers to this frequent NaNo problem: A How, and a Why.
Here’s How:
Check to see if you have actually presented an obstacle for your protagonist. If you haven’t, now is a dandy time to do so. Or maybe you presented an obstacle and she already solved it. Fine; throw in a new one. (I always suggest a ninja attack.)
If you’ve “gone up” on your story – like an actor “goes up” on a line, forgetting absolutely everything and not having a clue what happens next – there’s a good chance you’ve not complicated the life of your protagonist enough. There’s still plenty of time to do it, so get busy. Make this character’s life a living heck.
But remember, it’s not just about throwing tragedy at him; that would be literary fiction (BAZINGA!). No, what you what are problems he can and does attempt to overcome. The cat dying is not a plot complication, unless the protagonist needs to get said-dead-cat to N.O.R.A.D. because her ribs are inscribed with secret codes that can prevent the unintentional launch of multiple nuclear warheads. Now see, that’s a complication. (Feel free to use it. With ninjas.)
If you’re still stuck, try watching one or two of your favorite action movies. Spielberg and Lucas are particularly good for this (whether or not the movies always land well or not). Look at how the protagonist has a goal, keeps going after it, and how everything keeps getting in his way. That’s the backbone of your story. Without that, it really is just words on a page, and may really just be literary. (In my humble, commercial opinion.)
Can your story have too many problems? Only in revision, my friend. Only in revision. For now, give that character a goal and make her do everything in her power to reach it. Just make sure she fails every time, until around the last few pages.
Here’s Why:
If you someday want to publish fiction for a living, you’d better learn. That’s why.
All kidding aside, I cannot stress this enough, and won’t stop until every aspiring writer on earth hears it: Writing and publishing books is a business. Whether you shoot for Random House and six-figure advances or e-pubbing via Smashwords (again, perhaps for six figures!), do not doubt for one second that writing fiction is a job, and usually, a full-time job whether you have another one or not.
One of the greatest things about NaNo is it forces you to fight through these tough spots, wondering where your characters went, wondering if the plot makes any sense. NaNo teaches the first rule of professional fiction writing: You gotta write the dang book. Period. It may be a stinker – indeed, I’ll wager it is. It’s a first draft, that’s its point! But you have to have a finished manuscript before you can take the next steps. Use November to teach yourself how to do that if you haven’t yet. Worry not about quality; worry about getting a story out. Any story, doesn’t matter, just get it out.
Because the day may come (fingers crossed) that you’ll have this same problem with your second, third, or tenth published book. Might as well learn now how to deal with it.
Take care, and keep writing!
~ Tom
TOM LEVEEN is the author of four young adult novels: PARTY (2010), ZERO (2012), and MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRL (April 24, 2013) with Random House; and MONSTERS (Fall 2013) with Abrams/Amulet. He is a frequent school and group speaker and panelist, having appeared at Phoenix ComiCon, the Romance Writers of America, SCBWI, and many others. He will be teaching at next year’s Desert Nights, Rising Stars conference at ASU, at AZLA later this year, and this November at NCTE. Tom can be reached via his website at for information on presenting to your class or group.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Week 1 Pep Talk: Lisa McMann

So you took the big step and decided to try NaNoWriMo. Maybe it’s your first time, maybe it’s your thirteenth. And it’s a big commitment—one you need a lot of motivation to complete. Like choosing to eat healthy, adopt a puppy, or quit smoking, motivation and commitment are keys to your success. And by choosing to do NaNoWriMo, you’ve made the first step.

How awesome is it that you’re not alone? You’re surrounded by others who are as motivated as you are! And you’re excited, right? All those ideas whirling around your head faster than you can get them down on paper. You can do this! You’re actually DOING THIS! Look at you go!

One of the hardest parts of writing a novel is finding uninterrupted time each day so you can actually get the words on the page while the excitement is still there. This is a time for you to be a little selfish. Lean on friends or family to cover some of the things you normally do. Say no to extra commitments and block off time on your calendar for writing. And cancel or postpone some of the usual commitments you’ve made this first week so you can write while your motivation is strong. If you get stuck, get your butt outside and take a walk. It’s a great way to stimulate your mind and work out the problems you might be running into. Just because you’re not typing constantly doesn’t mean you’re not writing the story in your mind.

The more you can get written this first week, the more invested you will become in your novel, and the easier it will be to continue into next week. Ride the high as long as you can, and don’t forget to enjoy this exhilaration – you’re doing something most people only dream of doing. Think big, write fast, and don’t worry about the mistakes right now. You will have plenty of time to fix them after November. You can do this! I know you can. And I hope you love every minute of it.

Lisa McMann is the New York Times bestselling author of the Wake trilogy (Wake, Fade and Gone), Dead to You, Cryer’s Cross, and the middle-grade dystopian fantasy series The Unwanteds. Watch for her new YA Visions series beginning with CRASH on January 8, 2013. Find Lisa on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

5 Things to Stop Doing (If You Really Want to Finish Writing You Novel)

This article originates from Writer's Digest and the original can be found here. Enjoy!

5 Things to Stop Doing (If You Really Want to Finish Writing You Novel)  
October 26, 2012 | Kevin Kaiser

Your novel isn’t going to write itself (I mean, if it were, it probably would have finished itself a long time ago!). Here are the five things you need to stop doing immediately if you want turn yourself into someone who stops asking questions about how to write a manuscript and starts bragging to friends about how you completed your manuscript.

1. Nix the excuses.
We get it, life is busy and writing is hard work sometimes. Still, excuses never changed anything, never inspired anybody, and never made any dreams a reality. Goals like writing a novel don’t die on their own. We suffocate them with our excuses.

2. Stop trying.
Your novel needs less “trying” and more “doing” from you. Like Yoda said, Do or do not. There is no try.

3. Stop the Inner Critic’s crazy rants.
Shut it down. Duct tape its mouth. Stand on its neck. Whatever you do, don’t let the Inner Critic make you doubt yourself. There’s no reason to. This is open range and there are no rules, no right and wrong. You can do Whatever. You. Want.

4. Don’t overdose on caffeine.
Seriously. I’m sorry, but it has to be said. Call it tough love if you want, but more writers go stark raving mad in espresso-fueled rages than any other artists (with the exception of polka musicians, for obvious reasons).

Trust me on this. You don’t want your neighbors finding you crawling through their pet door at 3am in search of more coffee because you ran out at your house two hours earlier. Not that that’s happened to me. I’ve just heard stories.

5. Stop thinking it should be easier.
That’s like hoping gravity will get less gravity … er … ish. Less gravity like. OK, poor choice of words. You know what I mean. Bottom line: writing is what it is. Sometimes it’s easier than at other times. Expect it to be work and you’ll be thrilled when it doesn’t feel that way.

Guest column by Kevin Kaiser, who is the author of @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers, the profits of which go to support the future of NaNoWriMo. He blogs about how to write for a living without losing your soul. Follow @KevinSKaiser on Twitter.