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‘How-to’ Category

  1. Aboard the Roller Coaster

    July 8, 2013 by Kiersi

    Life is a roller coaster. I’m launching my author website this week, and it will be awesome, and I’m terrified. But also giddy. But also terrified? Terrigiddy, I think is what they call this.

    A couple of things I’m thinking about this week:

    Passing time. Our heroes are going from one place to another. They’re sitting in a restaurant and eating. The heroine and her love interest are hanging out at the park for a whole evening. How do we let the reader in on the event, without boring them for three pages with “here’s what I ordered and what we said to each other and how about that Coke?”

    I read a passage yesterday that I just had to highlight. (I never highlight books, but this one is signed and addressed to me, so I can’t very well resell it when I’m done–might as well make it mine.) The protagonist was at a bar with a cute boy and said, “He kept me entertained. I looked at my watch and suddenly, it was eleven, and time to go home.”

    BOOM. Done. Over. And everything that needed to be said was said. They had a great evening–so much so that she lost track of time. Ingenious.

    My first book. We’re close to having a cover and a sample chapter for THE DEVIL’S FIRE, and a tentative release date. I can’t share any of these with you just yet, but soon, my pretties. SOON.

    Finding your joy. I’ll admit it: I’m a little disheartened right now with one of my projects. I’m stalled in my revision. Every time I look at it, I just stare at the screen and my blinking cursor and chew my cuticles. Seriously, my hands are destroyed and I have almost nothing to show for it.

    How do you conquer your enemy when your enemy is yourself? I’m the only thing standing between me and this revision getting done. Between me and querying this book. I have an ache in my chest to just finish it already and hit the next bullet point on my career goal list, but I somehow can’t bring myself to do it.

    At some point, I started to hate writing.

    Isn’t that sick? What writer hates writing? I felt totally lost, because writing has been my getaway, has been my joy, since I was four years old. Stories were my blood.

    So, instead of despairing, I decided to just let the draft sit and ferment for a while. I’ve been reading books that I hope will give me inspiration–I have a library hold on The False Prince and a friend is bringing me the sequel to one of my favorite books, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. (Seriously, this book is awesome, you should read it.)

    I’m also working on my Seekrit Project, just to keep my writer blood moving. You can’t become a better writer without practice, and maybe if I can become a better writer, I can tackle this beast that I’ve built for myself.

    When you’re in a bind and feeling low on inspiration, find your joy. Embrace it.

    Time management. Working a freelance job that fluctuates drastically in terms of workload is a tricky creature. I had more work last month than I’ve ever had–which is a great thing, but also a massive distraction from other projects.

    The Freedom app has saved my life. If you’re like me, and have a hard time tuning out distractions without help, Freedom is the way to go.

    Critiquing. I love critiquing, but I’m always a little nervous when I send off those comments to the author. As my significant other would say, my brutal honesty is my best quality and my worst flaw. I just can’t help it. I don’t even know how to lie off-the-cuff, even if just for the sake of a joke.

    So how glad was I when my CP announced on Twitter that I was beyond helpful? I might have hummed a little song. This is the reason I critique–because I want your book to be the best that it can be.

    How was your weekend? What little lessons have you learned lately?

  2. Querying Tips, Critiquing, and YA Stands!

    July 3, 2013 by Kiersi

    So, two weeks ago I started blogging with a great group of authors on a fabulous book blog called YA Stands. Today my second post with them goes up, so I figured my relationship there is cemented enough that I can announce it here!

    You can read my first post, 5 Query Tips You Would Never Have Guessed Actually Work, by clicking here.

    Determine the end point of your query. The “end point” of your query is very different from the end point of your novel. A common pitfall in a query is trying to tell the whole story in three short paragraphs (including the ending)–but the point of a query is not to tell the whole story. The point of the query is to capture the agent’s interest so they request a partial or a full portion of your manuscript.

    I also just put up a post today about critiquing: The Ten Commandments of Critique. I hope you’ll stop by and bookmark this great resource!

    Select a partner that respects you as a person and a writer. Be clear up front about the category, genre, length and style of your manuscript. Ask point blank if your potential partner enjoys similar work–I try to select comparable titles (published work that’s like mine) and see if my partner has read or enjoyed them.

    The next part is important, but hard to quantify: select a critique partner that understands your vision for your work, and is willing to help you achieve that vision.

  3. What’s In A Name?

    June 19, 2013 by Kiersi

    Names are one of those things I don’t really notice unless they’re wrong. Great names (both for characters and for places) blend into the background, and help create an immersive world and reading experience; bad names stand out like an albino alligator.

    When I think of great names, I think of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, which uses a Russian-based language system. The names stem from there: the main character is named Alina Starkov; the world is called Ravka. Not to mention fantasy classics like Lord of the Rings–when you read an elven name in that book, you know right away the character is an elf. I mean, Elrond? Legolas? Galadriel??

    You can even tell a good sci-fi book by the quality of the names. I was so infuriated by the main character in Across the Universe being named Amy. I mean–dozens of years in the future, are we really going to be still naming our girls “Amy”? I doubt it. (more…)

  4. Developing Character with Story

    May 22, 2013 by Kiersi

    Chet GeckoI had an amazing time at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Oregon conference this past weekend. I learned craft from Laini Taylor (author of Daughter of Smoke and Bone), middle-grade humor from Bruce Hale (the very prolific middle-grade author of the Chet Gecko series), and attended a special session on story and character arcs by HarperCollins editor Andrew Harwell.

    The main lesson I came home with was in regards to character. Of course, I picked up a lot about writing for a middle-grade audience, which is invaluable to the point that I can’t express myself in words, and writing as a reader experience. But mostly, I started thinking long and hard about character. (more…)

  5. The Anatomy of a Critique Partner

    May 4, 2013 by Kiersi

    A few weeks ago I blogged that it takes a village to write a book. In the post, I only mentioned how helpful it’s been working with editors, who have no problem telling us authors where our problems are and helping us fix them.

    Today I want to shine the limelight on another essential piece of the puzzle: critique partners.

    Often referred to as a “CP” on Twitter (and, of course, the verb “to CP” has developed from there, as grammatically illogical as that is), a critique partner is an essential part of the writer’s toolkit.

    What is a critique partner?

    In my experience, critique partners are best gleaned from a group of peers–fellow writers in your genre or category. (Note the distinction from beta reader, who doesn’t need any writing experience, just the ability to read and write his or her reactions.) (more…)

  6. Rule #17: On Walking Away

    April 29, 2013 by Kiersi

    I have yet another guest post on writer/editor Kate Brauning‘s blog this week, this time for Pixar Storytelling Rule #17:

    No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

    This was one of my favorite posts on the subject so far, because it’s personal and near to my heart. I’ve worked on a number of manuscripts that had to be set aside for various reasons, and I’ve spun my wheels more times than I can count trying to figure out what happens next. And the work and the distance always grants me new, helpful perspective.

    In this post, I introduce a character that is feature in most authors’ lives: The Nag-bot.

    When you’ve written something and it just feels wrong, in a way you can’t explain? That’s her. When you leave your computer but can’t stop thinking about your manuscript—everything that you need to fix, everything you could add to it to solve your glitch—that’s her.

    Read the post, “Rule 17: Sometimes Walking Away Is Just What Your Story Needs.”

    Happy Monday!

  7. The 22 Pixar Story Basics

    April 19, 2013 by Kiersi

    Some time ago, Pixar’s Emma Coats tweeted twenty-two storytelling tips, and aggregated them into a single post called “22 Story Basics I’ve Picked Up In My Time At Pixar.” They have done a few circulations of the internet since then, because they are brilliant.

    Writer/editor Kate Brauning started a pretty neat blog challenge recently, and graciously gave me the opportunity to guest post for her while my blog was down. The challenge? Write a post a day about each of the twenty-two rules.

    The first one I wrote was for the very brilliant Rule #5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

    Check out my post: “Rule #5: Narrowing Your Focus.” This one was so much fun–I think you’ll like it.

    A lot of the twenty-two rules pertain to drafting, to plotting, to character development. This one, however, is really a rule that will follow you into revising, into your second and third and fourth drafts. Why? Because it’s all about refining. Narrowing the scope of your vision, cutting out the garbage and honing in on the things your readers will love and remember.

    Then, yesterday, I jumped in to fill in for Kate again with Rule #16: What are the stakes? Give us a reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

    Read the post, “Rule #16: Stakes and Sweat.” (Great title, Kate!)

    A lot of writing is really just clinical abuse. I’m pretty sure that if our characters were real people, most of us writers would be sitting behind bars.

    More likely than not, I’ll be doing another guest post for her soon–so be sure to bookmark her blog!

  8. Start At The Beginning. Not Before, Not After.

    April 14, 2013 by Kiersi

    Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.

    – Lewis Carroll

    Think about the opening of the last book you read, or the last movie. I, personally, had a cold last week, and during my incarceration on the couch watched How to Train Your Dragon.

    A good story starts at the beginning–not before, and not after. The first scene of How to Train Your Dragon is actually one of my favorites: the little viking town where Hiccup lives is attacked by dragons. It’s the very same attack where he shoots down Toothless, the “dragon” in the title, and the story starts to unfold.

    Just because a work is a full-length, 90k manuscript doesn’t excuse you from starting at the beginning. The last book I read was a New Adult contemporary romance (if you want to know it was Beautiful Disaster, by Jamie McGuire, about which I have many mixed thoughts–more to come next week).

    The opening sequence of the novel? The first time the hero meets her love interest. Because that is where the story starts. (more…)

  9. Chapter Titles: Should I, Or Shouldn’t I?

    April 11, 2013 by Kiersi

    For some reason, this question of whether or not to title chapters has come up on Twitter a lot lately. I first debated it last month, when I was revising a book and realizing that my chapter titles really contributed nothing to the book as a whole. They were troublesome to write–they had to be pithy and relevant–and kept changing as my chapter order/content changed.

    I tried to think of the number of books I’ve read this year that did or did not use chapter titles; what I figured out? 95% of them don’t.

    Okay, well, that’s pretty clear. Most authors are choosing to avoid titling their individual chapters. Books with multiple points of view, such as Beth Revis’s Shades of Earth–that one made sense to me because the narrator’s name (Amy or Elder) is listed at the top of each chapter. So, that sort of takes the place of the title. (more…)

  10. It Takes a Village to Write a Book

    April 9, 2013 by Kiersi

    The Night Circus

    As I move into the critique stage of my current novel, and my August book release finishes up with the editor over at Rain Town, it has become clearer and clearer to me that no single person is responsible for the great books we read and love.

    Today I read a fabulous post, “On Writing and Publishing Paths,” by Erin Morgenstern–author of the seriously delightful, magical, spectacle of a novel The Night Circus. And the takeaway is one that I hope every aspiring writer takes to heart: a manuscript rarely emerges from a writer’s mind a finished product.

    I’ve been on the receiving end of query rejections, form letters and personalized responses alike. “They don’t get it,” is something we’re tempted to think. “They’re blind to my potential.”

    As Erin writes:

    …I got my manuscript to the point where I didn’t know what else it needed and it seemed like the right point to start sending it out. I did. It got requests because I had a query letter that made it sound like it had a plot when it really didn’t. It also got a lot of rejections. (more…)