Friday, November 30, 2012

Identity Crisis

Sometimes, the only way to realize something is for someone who knows what they're talking about to point it out.  If it's something small, it's usually not a big deal, unless it's something embarrassing like having your pants zipper open.  (Guilty.)  But this sort of thing is at its worst when it's something you don't want to hear.  In my case, it's something I heard from two friends who do in fact know what they're talking about:

"You're writing Young Adult."

Naturally, my first response was resistance.  Most characters I write are in their late teens and early twenties, out of the usual range for YA; that's part of why I'm so big on New Adult.  Also, I haven't read much YA.  Most of what I've read in that category consists of the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series.  Both are excellent, don't get me wrong.

However, when I think of YA, I tend to think of stories that involve much younger protagonists and a different set of issues than what I like to write.  I tend to think of stories with lower word counts, which is a major part of why I've never set out to write YA; I seem to lack the ability to tell a short story.  Seriously.  Shortest book I've written was 103K, and I deliberately wrapped that one up as quickly as I could.  So despite YA being absolutely damn huge these days, I'd never felt the desire to write it.

But when two people who read a ton of YA tell me the same thing, it'd be foolish not to listen.  One said that the way I tell a story is too lengthy and descriptive for adult-aimed works.  I countered with examples from Neil Gaiman and Jim Butcher, and she counter-countered with the point that both of them can pretty much write whatever they want these days.  Couldn't argue with that.  And Rena has been trying to convince me that I write YA for quite a while.

Rena also calmed some of my worries about this whole thing.  Fantasy stories always have a higher word count than other books, so I could query Skyborne as YA fantasy and not get rejected on word count alone.  And if I found success in YA, I wouldn't be expected to write teenagers only forever.  Which is good, since I fully plan to let these people grow up.  Eventually.

Now, I'm not giving up on New Adult.  I think NA will only continue to grow, and it's starting to get wider recognition as a niche that needs to be filled.  I dearly hope it soon branches into more genres than just contemporary or paranormal romance.  But I'm not going to avoid YA anymore.

I've got a list of agents who are looking for YA epic fantasy, and a brand new edit on my query letter.  Guess what I'm doing this weekend.

Wish me luck.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Character Cut-and-Paste

So I have this story I've been trying to write since 2010.  Okay, 'trying to write' isn't the best way to put it.  I wrote two different versions of this story in 2010, and I've been trying to get it to really work ever since then.

Somehow, nearly 400,000 words in two novels and a plotting document that's stretched to almost eighty pages hasn't convinced me to give up on this story.  Heh.

Anyway, this deals a bit with the character I discussed in my last entry.  I realized earlier today that she didn't fit in the story.  Her moments in the plot were minor at best, and she was mostly around because she added attitude and conflict.  And because I'm still trying to find a way to get The Power of Rock to really work in print.  (Someday, I swear.)  I know by now that, when a character has no real purpose in the story, it's time to cut them out.

So of course, my next thought was if she needed to be replaced, and if so, by whom.  I thought back along the lengthy list of characters I'd written up for previous versions of the plot, and realized that one of them would probably work.  But how should she be affected by the world-ending event that starts the story?

I had one of those moments of perfect idea, when something comes that fits both the character and the story completely.  In the space of a few seconds, I knew what she would be able to do, how it would affect her, how it would fit into the larger plot and help advance it.  I knew how it would change over time and affect her, and how she would interact with the larger world because of it.  I had a vision of her in her future, and knew just how much her life was about to change.

If I could have idea moments like that more often, I'd have a lot fewer half-finished plots, believe me.

So: progress continues apace on the new plot, with the newish character plugged in and ready to go.  For all the doubt that comes with plotting a new story - especially one I've been trying to get to work for more than two years - I'm feeling better and better about this every time I finish working on it.  It just needs some more time to really come together, and I need to go over the entire plot with an eye toward making everything harder for our heroes.

I have this horrible tendency to make things too easy on my characters, pretty much always have.  But that's another blog entry altogether.

Finally: having an intelligent British young woman in the book means the guy who's a real smartass gets to make a Hermione joke.  And get punched for it.

This is going to be fun.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Power and Disability

Ever get the feeling you're worrying about something that most people wouldn't even consider an issue?  Yeah, me too.  Hence, this.

I'm working on character and plot for a book.  In this book, thanks to a major event I haven't fully worked out yet, people gain access to magic.  And in this story, human use of magic tends toward them getting a power they want, whether they knew they wanted it or not.  One of the characters is a girl who's mute - not deaf, she hears just fine, but can't speak.  She learns to manipulate sound, and eventually is able to do so well enough to talk for the first time.

And I'm starting to wonder if this is okay.

Earlier this year, I read a series of stories with a cast made up almost entirely of disabled people.  From reading it, I learned a lot about how to write people with disabilities.  The disability is part of what makes the person who they are; it affects their life in unavoidable ways, but it doesn't define them.  Like all characters, someone who's disabled needs to be fully fleshed-out, not just 'the deaf person' or 'the blind person' or so on.

The character I'm working on, I'm doing my best to do this.  I know who she is and how being mute has affected her.  I know why she loves music but why she's reluctant to pursue it as a career.  I know why school has become hellish for her.  I know the last thing she said to her parents before the world sort-of ended.  I know why she never uses her full first name.  And I know how she reacts when she realizes she can use her newfound abilities to speak.

What I don't know is if this is a good idea.

I talked about this with a co-worker, and he brought up the character Geordi from "Star Trek: the Next Generation".  For anyone who doesn't know, Geordi is blind, but has cybernetics that allow him to see everything standard human eyes do and beyond.  My co-worker told me how Geordi's improved vision was a plot point in several episodes, something essential to the story.  It wasn't just an example of "Okay, this guy's blind, but not anymore, thanks to technology."  And that got me thinking.

There is a right way to do this, I'm sure of it.  My character's ability to manipulate sound is an important part of the plot on several occasions, and her gaining a voice is an essential part of her character arc - not that it should be any other way.  I think that's how I need to approach it.  It's not that an issue she's dealt with all her life will suddenly go away.  It's that something has changed, and now she has to deal with it.  Because whether she realizes it or not, it's what she wanted.

With any luck, writing this book will go better than my last one, so someday I'll be able to talk about how it worked.

Friday, November 2, 2012

When is it Okay to Stop?

"Be persistent, relentless, and unstoppable, even when you want to stop. Especially when you want to stop."  --Adam Warren 

"You'd like to think that, wouldn't you?!"  --Vizzini, 'The Princess Bride'

So, I'm writing another new book, started it this past Saturday.  I didn't think that deserved its own blog entry, since odds are pretty damn good I'll start another one at some point in my life.  It's a book I've always been hesitant about writing, for a few reasons.  The first is that it's the start of a trilogy, and I'm really not sure about writing a book that's only sort-of a complete story when I'm still trying to get published.  The second is a much larger issue, and it's why having doubts after only six days.

The book and the world it takes place in were inspired by a video game I played a ton when I was younger, a game that's still one of my favorites.  I realized somewhere along the way in the world's creation that I wasn't quite being original in my planning, but I went with it anyway, since everything seemed original enough and I thought I'd changed things around enough to keep it from being obvious.

Now, nearly 20,000 words into the book, I have to admit it: damn, I couldn't be more wrong.

What I've written so far crosses the line from "inspired by" to "derivative of".  The book is following the game much more closely than I ever intended.  There are tiny moments that shout out the video game that I didn't really intend to put in - they just happened as I was writing.  Things like that are usually good, but in this case, I feel like it could get me in trouble.  I feel like getting this published would be tantamount to copyright infringement.  ...yes, I'm putting the cart before the horse when the cart is still a tree and the horse isn't even a zygote, but you get the idea.

This is why I'm thinking hard about cutting this off before I spend any more time on it.

I don't think stopping now would be a waste.  The planning document for the trilogy is twenty-four pages, and I already have a new plot in mind, one that would take place in this world but not follow the story that inspired everything.  I just know that there's so much writing advice out there that says not to stop once you've started a story.

But is there really a point to finishing a story when I couldn't, in good conscience, even try to do anything with it?  I know not everything's written to be published, but still.

I haven't made my decision yet, though I'm taking a night away from the story to mull things over.   Could definitely use some advice.