ask-nanowrimo

Ask An Author: "When planning a trilogy, is it necessary to have everything laid out?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Kat Zhang, our final counselor, is author of the Young Adult series, The Hybrid Chronicles, and is a frequent participant of NaNoWriMo.

When planning a trilogy/series, is it necessary to have everything laid out? — Anonymous

Very few things about the writing process can really be called “necessary". Only “helpful” to varying degrees, based on your own process. That being said, having the basic plot of a trilogy/series laid out beforehand can be very helpful, and will probably save you a lot of heartache later when you realize while writing book three that you really need your hero to secretly talk with bees in order to defeat the Big Bad. Unfortunately, you never brought that up in books one and two and you either have to come up with a different ending (if books one and two are already published, and can’t be changed) or you have to go back and rip up a lot of stuff in order to make talking-to-bees a possibility.

Of course, this sort of goes back to to the whole “plotter versus pantser” thing. Some people outline meticulously before ever writing. Other people are much more go-with-the-flow. Both can work. Just know that a trilogy can be an unwieldy thing if there’s too little planning involved at the start!

If the question was meant more in the vein of “Will my agent and publisher expect a summary of books two and three when they sign me for the trilogy,” then the answer is “Yes, they will”, but generally, they won’t expect anything too detailed, and everyone will understand that things do change.

Official word-count validation has begun! Make sure to claim your win (and some awesome winner goodies) by following these steps.

anonymous asked:

hai again bby, just another quick question if that's ok :D how many novel(la)s have you written, and also, have you ever done nanowrimo? lots of love, hope you have a wonderful wednesday! *squeeze* <3 ps. best of luck with your compositions, you can do it! :D

sorry for the late reply! wednesday was a weird sort of adventure for me hahahaha

i think ive finished three that were not publish-worthy at all LOL (but ya gotta learn somehow) and im working on a couple right now though ive put it on hold. also i have done nanowrimo almost every year since 2010! it’s super fun, even if im terribly booked and dont intend on making the 50k, the 10 or 20k i get out of it is worthwhile.

and thank you omfg. ive finished last night so im done! OuO

Ask An Author: "How do you juggle writing and editing with day-to-day activities?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Heather Mackey, our third counselor, is author of the middle-grade fantasy Dreamwood:

Outside of Camp, how do you write and edit along with the rest of your day-to-day life activities? It’s a balancing act for everyone, but what works for you specifically? — awriterinspired

I’ve been struggling with how to be productive for a long time, and I feel miserable when I don’t get much done. So misery avoidance has led me to figure out what times of days and magic spells are necessary for each activity. It’s all about knowing your circadian rhythms and gaming your biology. I know I work creatively best in the morning before I eat lunch. I know dark chocolate will help me focus after 9 pm.

I have a day job and two kids. You might think this would mean I can’t get any noveling done, but it’s just forced me to be disciplined. I try to be really clear about what I’m trying to do with my time. I think ahead to my next block of time and set my intention: Tonight I’m going to work on this scene or revise this chapter. I find it’s hardest when I sit down and feel like there’s a bunch of different stuff I could do but I haven’t made a clear decision. That’s when I look up and realize I just spent the last hour reading through a hundred online comments about LeBron James’s decision to go back to Cleveland.

To get stuff done you want to figure out three things:

When you’re best at each activity: Drafting brand new scenes, editing, and social networking all take different parts of your brain and are all sensitive to time of day, food you eat, music you listen to, exposure to media, your emotional state, etc.

How much time you need: If I’ve got half an hour or less, I’ll try to spend that on business, networking, and social media. If I’ve got an hour or more I’ll try to write or edit (depending on what’s highest priority). Thinking in time blocks also helps you know when to step away and go do other parts of your life.

How to convince yourself you can get it done in the time you have: This is the hardest one. I have plenty of weekend days that go like this: Wake up at 6:30, realize son needs to leave for a soccer game at 8. But I wanted to get some writing done. Despair. It doesn’t have to be that way! If you look at the above schedule you see that really I have about 45 minutes to an hour of morning writing time. If I just go into it with the right attitude, I can get something done. Prove to yourself that you can do it, and this will get easier.

Good luck!

Next week, we have our final Camp Counselor, Kat Zhang, author of the Hybrid Chronicles, a young adult series. Ask her your questions here!

Ask An Author: "How do you write a character’s inner dialogue?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Heather Mackey, our third counselor, is author of the middle-grade fantasy Dreamwood:

How can you write a character’s inner dialogue? How do you format it? — kiwithewitch

Drat, she thought tearfully, these NaNoWriMo questions are going to expose me as a fraud!

My book didn’t have a ton of interior dialogue, but I noticed when it came back from copyedit all such passages were in italic. When you’re directly transcribing the thoughts of a character, put those thoughts in italic. (Use quotes only for dialogue that’s spoken aloud.)

But formatting is the easy part. How should you best use it? I think the answer is: sparingly. Interior dialogue—at least of the direct sort in my example—can become a crutch. And italics are annoying. Really, if my character is worried about people thinking she’s a fraud, you, the reader, should be able to detect that simply from her body language, her actions, or something she says to someone else. Dramatize it, don’t think it.

Now, in first person point of view or in close third, you’re often in a character’s thoughts. So you may find yourself writing stuff like this:

She looked out the window. Would anyone take her advice?

This needs neither italics nor quotes. You’re so close to the character, you’re naturally reporting what’s going on in their head, and it’s a lot easier to read. In fact, with some writers, you’re reading mainly interior thought with very little action.

Still, I think as a general rule of thumb you want externalize inner thought and emotion as much as possible, particularly if you’re writing in an action-oriented genre.

Ask yourself:

  • Can I show this another way?
  • Is it necessary?
  • How does the passage read without it?

In the end, how much you use interior dialogue has to be a matter of personal style, genre, and what your aims are for your book. Look at the authors you admire in the genre you’re working in and study how they use this tool. 

Next week, we have our final Camp Counselor, Kat Zhang, author of the Hybrid Chronicles, a young adult series. Ask her your questions here!

Ask An Author: "Do supporting characters need to be developed?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Liz Coley, our second counselor, has been a member of the NaNoWriMo community since 2006. In 2013, her 2009 NaNo-novel, Pretty Girl-13, was published by HarperCollins.

As opposed to the main character, do supporting characters need to be developed even when they don’t necessarily do as much? — Anonymous

One of my first writing conference teachers told a roomful of aspirants the “terrifying” tale of being informed by his editor, full and polished manuscript in hand, that two of his supporting characters were indistinguishable and played such similar roles that they must be combined into one. Tolkien could have had this problem with Pippin and Merry but didn’t. The hobbit cousins had personalities and story arcs that separated them.

On the page, your main character will have the deepest back story, the greatest stakes, the most prominent plot points. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of your fellowship should be mere “spear-holders,” as they say in opera. If you can figure out who they are off the page, minor characters will speak with distinct voices, act purposefully (as opposed to conveniently or randomly), and take on specific roles in scenes, which means to some extent they need to have their own back story, goals, and even challenges.

Especially in the NaNoWriMo process, minor characters can blossom under your fingertips to provide major subplots. Cameo appearance characters may live as few as a couple sentences, but if they aren’t more than window dressing, why bother with them? You may not know their eye and hair color, name, age, or mother’s maiden name, but they can serve as foils, provide parallels, add comedy, or create local color.

It’s not necessary to apply a character inventory questionnaire. I’ve got two tricks for drawing out minor characters.

1. Totally trippy sounding—interview them with a pad and paper in hand. Ask them specific questions out loud and all sorts of interesting stuff comes bubbling out of the back of your mind. Write down their answers.

2. Write a short “autobiography” of the six most important things that ever happened to them from first person perspective. That’s fodder for great vignettes as well as giving you more insight into their motivations, skills and talents, strengths and weaknesses, fears and hopes.

You may have heard it said that every person is the hero of his or her own story, even the villain. With minor characters, try to offer the reader a glimpse of this perspective.

Next week’s Camp Counselor is Heather Mackey, author of the upcoming middle-grade fantasy DreamwoodAsk her your questions here!

Ask a Published Author: What needs to be in a first chapter?

Jennifer Bosworth was born in Price, Utah. As a kid, her favorite thing to do was roam through the hills and tell herself stories. As an adult, she does the same thing, only now she’s roaming the streets of Los Angeles, her favorite city in the world. Struck is Jennifer’s first published novel.

I’m starting my novel today (Yay!!) But I have been avoiding the first chapter because it is a little intimidating. What are the essentials that need to be in a first chapter and how do you go about when you write them? — Ceileidh

I adore writing first chapters. That being said, the first chapter I write rarely ends up being the first chapter in the final draft.

In the case of my novel Struck, the first chapter ended up as the 22nd chapter. More often, writers tend to start their books too early, and that’s completely okay. I believe this tendency stems from the need to spend time getting to know your character before you plunge them too deep into the meat of the story. Yet another common tendency is to begin your story with a character waking up. This is actually how The Hunger Games commences, and it can work, but it’s still considered a rookie mistake by many. 

But enough about what not to do. Let’s talk about what to do with a first chapter.

Keep reading

Ask An Author: "How can you be sure that your plot is actually compelling, and not just a pile of stuff that happens?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Marivi Soliven, our second counselor, has taught writing workshops at the University of California, San Diego and at the University of the Philippines. Her most recent novel, The Mango Bride, is about two Filipina women, and the unexpected collision that reveals a life changing secret:

How can you be sure that your plot is actually compelling, and not just a pile of stuff that happens? — The Freelancer Society

Novelist Drusilla Campbell answers this question by comparing a novel and its parts to weaving cloth on a loom. Imagine your plot is a red weft—the thread that runs crosswise through that cloth. The events are all the vertical threads, called the warp, that your weft runs across. A compelling plot is a weft that intersects all the warps from one end of that cloth to the other: from the inciting incident that gets your novel on its way, to the many detours and adventures your protagonists take, all the way to the very last scene.  

If you build your plot correctly so that characters are reacting to events, even surprising scenes become logical.

At the end of the novel, you should be able to tug on that red thread and see each of the preceding scenes “pull” along with it. If that happens, chances are you’ve composed a compelling plot. If you pull and nothing happens, you’ll probably need to tighten or delete the irrelevant scenes. 

Additionally, I like to construct an “internal logic” which defines the way your imagined world functions. Your characters move according to the  rules you create so that their actions become logical or plausible to someone reading your story. When your story’s internal logic is strong, it enables readers to suspend their belief and go along for the ride, because what happens makes sense. Thus Bram Stoker’s vampire perishes in the sunlight, because that’s how his novel’s internal logic works. On the other hand, according to Stephanie Meyer’s internal logic, it makes it possible for her Twilight vampires to survive in the watery sunlight of the Pacific Northwest.

Next week’s Camp Counselor will be Patricia C. Wrede, author of fantasy novels such as the The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

Ask her your questions here!

Ask An Author: "How do you write a convincing villain?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Patricia C. Wrede, our third counselor, is the much-loved author of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and has just published a book for aspiring authors called Wrede on Writing:

How do you write a convincing villain? — Anonymous

The same way you write any character convincingly—by making their dialogue, actions, reactions, and motivations realistic and convincing. The writer has to understand the villain just as thoroughly as he/she understands the main characters. If the writer doesn’t believe that any reasonable, rational person would do whatever evil thing the villain is doing, the villain will most likely come off as a cardboard evil stereotype, or else as insane.

This works for some books, but in many cases, you have to start by asking “Why would a reasonable, rational person kick puppies?” (or whatever it is), and work until you figure out a believable reason.

The next step is getting more of that into the story. This is often harder to do with villains than with other characters, because the villain usually spends less time “on stage” than your main characters. If it’s a multiple-viewpoint book and you can include the villain as a viewpoint character without spoiling a mystery or lessening suspense, that’s one possibility.

In books where the villain can’t be a viewpoint character, you have to keep the villain’s ideas and motivations in mind during any scene the villain appears in (it can help to write the scene from the villain’s viewpoint first, and then rewrite it from the actual viewpoint character’s, though this is more work than some folks like to do).

You also have to keep an eye out for opportunities to reveal to your heroes what the villain’s motives are. One of the most effective things, if you can swing it, is to have the hero make a discovery at some point that makes him seriously wonder if the villain is right, so that the hero has to consider the villain’s actions carefully and almost (but not quite) switch sides. This, too, is not suitable for every story. 

Next week’s final Camp Counselor will be Michael David Lukas, author of historical novel The Oracle of Stamboul

Ask him your questions here!

Ask An Author: "How do you come up with good character names that aren't boring, but aren't ridiculous at the same time?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Patricia C. Wrede, our third counselor, is the much-loved author of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and has just published a book for aspiring authors called Wrede on Writing:

How do you come up with good character names that aren’t boring, but aren’t ridiculous at the same time? — infinitycharacters

There are tons of name-your-baby web sites that provide first names (often sortable by country-of-origin), and an equal number of genealogy sites that will provide last names. Google “[name] [first/last name] origin.”  If you are writing a present-day, real-world story, this is often all you need.

Historical or alternate-history settings require a little more research, as “favorite” names tend to vary a lot from century to century; for these, check character lists for fiction written in that century, or make yourself a list of actual famous people born at that time and place. This will give you a list of first and last names that you can recombine, and perhaps an indication of the sorts of names not on the list that you can use. You can also check the origins and development of modern names—Mark, as a first name, was Marcus or Markos in the Roman Empire.

If you are inventing your own world, it is a good idea to study some of the above sources to get a feel for how names change over time and cultures. (John, Giovanni, Ioannes, Hans, and Juan are all cited as variations of the same name, for instance.) Then decide if your imaginary cultures have language bases that are similar to real-life countries, whether you want to have echoes of those countries in your imaginary world, and how strong you want the echoes to be.

If you want echoes, use real but obscure names from those countries, or start with a real name and change a letter or two. Or you can break down lists of actual names into syllables and recombine them. There are also online naming programs that you can give a set of rules (like “no double letters” or “w is a vowel” or “all names are two syllables plus –ich or –ora”) that will generate a screen full of names from which you can choose the ones that look and sound right to you.

Make sure any imaginary names are pronounceable, and try not to give two characters in the same book names that are too similar (some recommend not having any first names that begin with the same letter).

Next week’s final Camp Counselor will be Michael David Lukas, author of historical novel The Oracle of Stamboul.

Ask him your questions here!

Ask An Author: How do you start editing your story?

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Liz Coley, our second counselor, has been a member of the NaNoWriMo community since 2006. In 2013, her NaNo-novel, Pretty Girl-13, was published by HarperCollins.

How do you start editing your story? Is there an actual process or is it much simpler than it seems? — sn03flake12

As a veteran November Wrimo, I went to Camp NaNo last July and came home with 266 Yesterdays, a manuscript that has been on submission with editors for some months now. Here’s how I went from raw to ready:

I’m a slightly naughty Wrimo; I start the revision process as I am laying down my 1,667 words per day. Usually I get my first 300-400 words of the daily quota by going back over yesterday’s sparse prose and adding action to dialogue, description to setting, and verve to verbs. I take out all the boring “he turned”/“she looked up” filler tags and write real stuff. I expand on what’s on the page, letting the subconscious mind of the pantser-I-am ponder where I’m heading next. That means that at the end of the month, I emerge with a foundation draft employing pretty decent use of words. The next question is—how’s ‘The Story’?

I used to rely entirely on my writers’ group (long-distance writing friends) and my trusted first readers for feedback. You might think that polishing prose first and then analyzing story is bassackwards, and I admit, it might be, but it’s my process. I don’t show anything I think is poorly written to first readers. In the case of 266 Yesterdays, I had my agent answer The Story question for me. At the risk of seriously derailing myself, I sent her the rough-polished first ten chapters mid-July. Fortunately, she loved the characters and the way the plot was headed.

As I chugged along, I made post-it notes on issues to fix or revisit—like “Why didn’t he just tell her?” or “Is that friendship busted for good” or “Don’t forget to plant hints about this earlier.” I promised myself I’d finish revising in August.

First, I hit all my sticky-note points and then did two full re-reads to polish:

  • for consistency,
  • for clarity,
  • for the unique voice of the narrator, and
  • for colorful turns of phrase.

A final read-thru focused on super-proofreading. On August 31, I sent my agent a submission-ready manuscript. That’s the fastest I’ve ever created a novel, but setting a hard deadline for revision laser-focused my efforts.

Check out my NaNo post “Four Questions to Ask About Each Draft” for more details, and thanks for listening.

Next week’s Camp Counselor is Heather Mackey, author of the upcoming middle-grade fantasy Dreamwood. Ask her your questions here!

Ask An Author: "How do you avoid writing a Mary Sue character?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Christa Desir, our first counselor, writes contemporary fiction for young adults, and has volunteered as a rape victim activist for more than ten years. Her second bookBleed Like Me, will be out this fall. 

How do you avoid writing a Mary Sue character? — ShatterStar

Well, this is very easy for me because I’m deeply flawed. And everyone I know is deeply flawed. I am attracted to people who mess up over and over again. (This also is a character flaw of mine). And I have no interest in writing likable characters; I am interested in writing real characters.

The kind of books I write, the kind of books I’m drawn to have deeply broken characters. My jumping-off point is always looking at what the emotional landscape of a character is, seeing what’s wrong with them, wondering what is the worst thing they’ve ever done, wondering what is the thing they would never tell anyone. When you ask these questions, you cannot end up with Mary Sue characters. Even if you don’t include these things in your book, they are questions that are valuable to ask.

The other thing that helps is to build a life for every person in your book. Even the janitor who just comes by to yell at the main character for sneaking back into school after hours. What’s this janitor’s home life like? What’s it like for him to have to sweep up after kids? Is he taking care of someone at home? What is the most recent thing that pissed him off? This is how we build stories for people; this is how we make them real.

Next week’s Camp Counselor is Liz Coley, author of YA psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13Ask her your questions here!

Ask An Author: "How do you deal with transitions in your writing?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Liz Coley, our second counselor, has been a member of the NaNoWriMo community since 2006. In 2013, her 2009 NaNo-novel, Pretty Girl-13, was published by HarperCollins.

How do you deal with transitions in your writing? (Transitions from thoughts and memories to present events, small time lapses, abrupt changes without using the word “suddenly” 100 times in your novel, and so on.) — Anonymous

Hi Campers! I’m the first one awake at “camp” this morning as the family snoozes on. In fact, that’s usually the case on vacation, and it has led me to some wonderful, but solitary adventures. The most memorable was shelling on Sanibel Island as dawn broke, and I set off in bare feet…

I’ve just opened this post with a handy time-jumping technique.

  1. There’s a specific detail about what’s happening now,
  2. followed by a generality,
  3. which pivots and leads us back in time to another specific.

The visual of dawn along the seashore anchors the recollection in “scene mode” (as opposed to “thought mode”) immediately. Did you notice the verb shift tense or did it slip stealthily under your radar?

Keep reading

Ask An Author: "How do you create realistic-feeling characters?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Marivi Soliven, our second counselor, has taught writing workshops at the University of California, San Diego and at the University of the Philippines. Her most recent novel, The Mango Bride, is about two Filipina women, and the unexpected collision that reveals a life changing secret.

How do you create realistic-feeling characters? — Jennifer M.

I watch people all the time for odd mannerisms and unique gestures. I file those away in memory until a likely character comes along who can use it. Following the same logic, I sometimes imagine an actor playing the characters in my novel. Many of the female protagonists were drawn from images of my mother and her sisters in the ‘60s, with their Jackie Kennedy bouffants, shift dresses and chain-smoking, hard-drinking ways.

Anytime I couldn’t move forward in a scene I would ask, “Well, what would the actor do? How would my mom respond to that argument?”

Revealing physical details via physical gestures or through the eyes of another character also helps make a character more three-dimensional. In one scene, my character Lydell scratches his hairy nape; when he grins at Beverly she notices that his teeth are the color of weak tea.

Use all your senses in the description of your characters, too. Señora Concha is a chain smoker who loves exported perfume so she’s described as smelling like a smokestack in the Garden of Eden. When Beverly first touches Josiah’s forearm, she marvels at the amount of hair covering his freckled skin. 

Finally, add some softness or vulnerability to your villains because that makes them more like folks you come across in real life. In The Mango Bride, Josiah is cruel to his wife, but he is exceptionally tender around their young daughter. When you think of your characters as actual people you know and can converse with rather than images in your head, they really do come alive in the story.

Next week’s Camp Counselor will be the great Patricia C. Wrede, author of fantasy novels such as the The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

Ask her your questions here!

Ask An Author: "What gets you out of writer's block?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Patricia C. Wrede, our third counselor, is the much-loved author of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and has just published a book for aspiring authors called Wrede on Writing:

What gets you out of a writer’s block? — Anonymous

It depends on what sort of writer’s block you mean. There is real writer’s block, which I define as the actual inability to write so much as a grocery list or email; in my experience, this is usually tied to some non-writing thing like depression, and probably requires therapy. Then there’s what most people mean by “writer’s block,” which is “I am not making progress on my novel.”

This kind of writer’s block happens for one of several reasons:

  1. I just don’t feel like writing today.
  2. I don’t know what happens next.
  3. I know what happens, but it’s something I don’t want to write.
  4. I didn’t think things through, and am either just about to do something hideously wrong or have just done something hideously wrong, and my backbrain refuses to go on until I fix it.

In the case of 1 and 3, what I do is write anyway. It is no fun, but there is no job anywhere that is 100% fun, 24/7.

In the case of 2 and 4, saying “just write” will not work, because something is off; what is required is thinking. If I don’t know what happens next, it’s a matter of thinking about all the various things that could happen next until I get to one I like. This is not casual thinking; it is hard work thinking.

In the case of 4, I won’t be able to progress until I figure out what the problem is and fix it. Ninety-nine percent of the time, for me, the problem is that I made somebody act out of character in order to keep the plot moving; the fix is to have them act in character and then either figure out a way to make my original plot happen anyway, or else figure out where the new action will take the story (which usually involves making up a new plot from there on.)

Next week’s final Camp Counselor will be Michael David Lukas, author of historical novel The Oracle of Stamboul.

Ask him your questions here!

Ask An Author: "With all of the existing imaginary worlds out there, how do you create a world that's unique to your own story?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Michael David Lukas, our final counselor, is author of historical novel The Oracle of Stamboul:

With all of the existing imaginary worlds out there, how do you create a world that’s unique to your own story? — Katie Spektor

On the surface, this seems like a question oriented towards science fiction and fantasy novels. But, in fact, it’s applicable to any genre. Novel writing is, first and foremost, world building. You may be building a world ruled by the electric sheep from android dreams or you might be building a world that looks very similar to our own. Regardless, writing a novel is about creating a landscape, populating it, setting the rules, and telling the stories that bubble up to the surface.

Whatever your world may be, it has to be one that is uniquely yours. Your world can be influenced by other fictional worlds. But in order for the world to be successful it should be one that you have created and (importantly) one that you will feel comfortable living in for the next few years.

Spend some time in your world before you start writing, give yourself the space to imagine who lives there, what the air smells like, how hard the sun beats down. Build the world out in your mind before putting it down on the page. Because once you start writing, the demands of story start to take over.

And, if at all possible, try not to think about the market (whether people want to buy a book about talking hippopotamuses or a slightly noirish remake of Garfield). Try not to let all the vampires, werewolves, and plucky dystopian heroines influence your world building. A world that’s unique to you will be more enjoyable to write about and, ultimately, it will produce a book that’s more enjoyable to read.

Official word-count validation starts today! Make sure to claim your win (and some awesome winner goodies) by following these steps.

Ask An Author: "How would one write a love triangle without turning it into a major cliché?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Andrea Hannah, our first counselor, lives in the Midwest, where there are plenty of dark nights and creepy cornfields to use as fodder for her next thriller. Her debut YA novel, Of Scars and Stardust, will be published in the fall.

How would one write a love triangle without turning it into a major cliché? — Anonymous

There’s a reason why love triangles are a trope in YA fiction. Let’s be honest: how many of you dated someone in high school but still had a crush on someone else? Or dated one guy and watched him drift out of the picture, only to have him drift back in once you moved on to someone else? Creating situations that are realistic and less obvious is the key to a love triangle that doesn’t feel cliché.

Write well-developed, multi-dimensional characters and a protagonist that has a different relationship with each, and you’re on your way to an interesting triangle. Just keep it realistic.

(Two of my favorite love triangles are Mat, Anna, and the boy she dates over the summer in Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, and Adam, Blue, and Gansey in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle series.)

Next week’s Camp Counselor will be Marivi Soliven, author of literary fiction novel The Mango Bride.

Ask her your questions here!

Ask An Author: "How much research is too much, too little, and just right?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Christa Desir, our first counselor, writes contemporary fiction for young adults, and has volunteered as a rape victim activist for more than ten years. Her second book, Bleed Like Me, will be out this fall.

How much research is too much, too little, and just right? Does the answer change depending on if we’re writing historical fiction, tech-based science fiction, mainstream fiction, etc.? — Anonymous

I do think it depends on what genre you’re writing in. There are certain subjects that are more immediately accessible to us, and we can do quick research and get a feel for them. Then I think there are things that are way outside our schema and we need to dig in more.

For example, I’m writing a book about an alcoholic girl boxer. I knew about the alcoholism. It has touched my life, so I could get into it pretty easily. And I poured over the AA Big Book and talked/listened to a lot of people in recovery. But I didn’t know much about boxing. So I had to stretch further and start asking around if anyone knew female amateur boxers. (Thank you, Twitter!).

And then I went with a boxing friend of mine to a gym so I could smell it and see it and not just half-ass it from YouTube videos. A lot of the stuff I learned about boxing is not in my book. But it still informed my writing. I know a lot of authors have done very in-depth research (ask Ruta Sepetys her story one day). This is part of the job and you should not shy away from it.

On the other side of that, I have a friend who loves to research. She could spend ten years delving into Italian architecture just to write a thriller that hinges on one small and obscure Italian architecture fact. She would live in research forever and never write a book if she didn’t have people around her who build writing challenges into her life. Or if she didn’t have someone like me saying, “Beth, the best manuscript is a completed manuscript.”

So at a certain point, you need to let go of the research and just write. I think instinct comes in handy here. If you think you have under-researched something, you probably have. If you think your overly extensive research is stopping you from writing, it probably is. Listen to your gut. Or at the very least, your critique partners!

Next week’s Camp Counselor is Liz Coley, author of YA psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13. Ask her your questions here!

Ask an Author: "How do you keep the middle of a novel from sagging?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Kat Zhang, our final counselor, is author of the Young Adult series, the Hybrid Chronicles, and is a frequent participant of NaNoWriMo. 

How do you keep the middle of the novel from sagging or slowing down? — Anonymous

Generally, part of a novel seems “slow” when the characters aren’t actively trying to reach their goal. The middle of a book tends to suffer from this problem the most. That’s because the beginning of a book naturally involves the characters setting off on their journey toward their goal, and the end of a book typically involves them facing the Big Bad or whatever—the final resolution of their goal. 

Sometimes, characters stop “doing stuff” in the middle, and that’s why the pacing flags. I put “doing stuff” in quotes because the characters can’t just be doing anything. If they’re not doing things that actively move them toward their goal, and aren’t involved in some kind of conflict, then we can still have pacing problems. Think about it this way: if your book is about the main character trying to win a horse race, then the beginning is her deciding to enter the race, and the end is her actually racing. But the middle? That’s her training. And too much training can slow the pacing down, especially if it’s pretty repetitive stuff. 

This is where a subplot can come in handy. In our previous example, the main plot objective (wanting to win the horse race) is in a bit of a lull conflict-wise because your character may need months of training, and it’s no longer exciting. So, what can act as a storyline that contributes to the larger plot, but adds conflict and excitement to the middle?

A very common subplot to use here is a romantic one. Maybe she falls in love with a guy who uses the same stables, but feels torn because she ought to be spending her time training, not hanging out with him. Now there’s immediate conflict and tension again, and that keeps the pacing up.

Not interested in a romance? Maybe she finds out someone is trying to sabotage her training, and needs to figure out who it is before she or her horse gets seriously injured. Now there’s a mystery subplot. You could have both the romantic and the mystery subplot! But be careful, because too many subplots can get unwieldy, and clutter up your story. It’s all a balancing act.

Remember, you can officially “win” Camp NaNoWriMo’s July session starting July 25. Find out more here.

Ask An Author: "How do you escalate conflict, and then wrap up the plot and subplots towards an ending?"

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Michael David Lukas, our final counselor, is author of historical novel The Oracle of Stamboul:

How can writers steer the conflict to escalation where it’s “hitting the fan” and then wrap up the plot and subplots to an ending? — Anonymous

This is a big question. So as not to get overly vague or surpass my word limit, I’m going to focus my answer on the second half. How can we wrap up the plot and subplots?

Ending a novel can be difficult because it involves a shift in speed. For much of the novel you’ve been increasing tension, putting your foot on the gas. And then, when you begin wrapping things up you have to slow down and decrease the tension.

There are many ways to end a novel. But no matter how you decide to bring your book to a close, it’s important to make sure that you have addressed the big question(s) you set out at the beginning. Did she find the magic necklace? Did he come to terms with his brother’s betrayal? Did they defeat the aliens? Think of the ending as a chance to answer all of the remaining questions your reader might have.

It is also the place where you can impose a sense of moral order on the universe of your novel. It’s your chance to dole out rewards to your favorite characters and to punish those you don’t like. Alternately, the ending can be an opportunity to expose the utter chaos and disorder that is life (i.e. the sweet and thoughtful recent college graduate ends up getting passed over for the job she wants more than anything else in the world or the evil warlords continue to wreck havoc on the simple villagers).

Finally, I would urge you to try to avoid the Hollywood style ending that jumps from resolution to resolution. Although you want to give your readers a sense of closure and let them know where various characters ended up, they don’t need to know whether the main character’s mother’s dog succeeded in catching that bird.

Official word-count validation has begun! Make sure to claim your win (and some awesome winner goodies) by following these steps.