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June 14, 2012

General Writing: Getting Started with Fantasy and Science Fiction

Filed under: Genre — Tags: , , , — ax20 @ 8:07 am

Writing science fiction and fantasy are particularly difficult because you need to create an believable, realistic new world. Here are some thoughts on the basics:

July 21, 2011

General Writing: What Makes It YA

Filed under: General Writing, Genre — Tags: , — ax20 @ 1:01 pm

What makes a story YA (aimed at 13-19 year olds) as opposed to Middle Grade (aimed at 8-12 year olds) and adults (20 and up)? Check out this post to learn more about what puts a novel in this specific genre:

what’s considered Young Adult fiction?

July 20, 2011

General Writing: World Building

Filed under: General Writing, Genre — Tags: , — ax20 @ 10:50 pm

There is a lot to take into account when creating a new world (typically in the Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Dystopian, and Paranormal genres). This post brings up a few topics to keep in mind when thinking about your world:

Sample World-Building Questions, By Request

General Writing: YA Common Cliches

Filed under: General Writing, Genre — Tags: , , , , , , , — ax20 @ 10:07 pm

I came across this series of posts that talks about various cliches in YA books. A number of these cliches apply to adult books as well, but they are particularly true of the younger genre.

By Genre:
Dystopian
Fantasy/Urban Fantasy
Romance
Paranormal Romance

General Writing: Adults in Children’s Books

Filed under: General Writing, Genre — Tags: , , — ax20 @ 9:58 pm

Something became particularly clear to me while reading a recent manuscript: adults do not belong in children’s novels. I don’t mean there can’t be any adults around ever. What would Harry Potter have been like without the Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Sirius Black, and the Hogwarts faculty? What would The Hunger Games be like without Haymitch? What I am saying is that they cannot be completely involved in every aspect of the main characters’ adventures.

There is a simple reason for this. If an adult is always around, the children–in nearly every situation–must be passive. Think of it this way: Imagine the only way to save the world was to do dangerous thing X. What mother would allow their child to take that risk instead of taking it themselves?

Sure, there are exceptions. A mentor has to let their student take action or they can’t learn–Dumbledore did eventually bring Harry with him to the cave while searching for the Horcrux and even helped him pull off some of his various adventures. But throughout much of the series, Dumbledore kept things from Harry to “protect” him. In Book Five, Dumbledore came to the Ministry of Magic and jumped in to stop Voldemort from killing Harry. This is also the reason Dumbledore had to eventually die. So long as he was alive, Dumbledore would never allow Harry to face Voldemort on his own.

Another exception is when the adult is so cowardly that the child has to take care of them. This happens at times. One example would be a child who has had to grow up because their parent has fallen apart for some reason and the child has taken care of them (In The Hunger Games, Katniss has been taking care of the family by hunting and providing an extra income.) Another is the abusive/evil adult who does not care for the world or their child, forcing the kid to take action. Or, as in the Alex Rider and Maximum Ride books, the kids are fighting/spying on adults who are “the enemy.” All of these cases inherently create tension, making them acceptable. Otherwise, the adults should come in and out of the story.

The author’s job is to to create an excuse for the parents’ absence. In Narnia, the kids are sent away for their protection because the country is at war. Harry is an orphan and, for the most part, in school. In Gregor the Overlander, Gregor’s mom is at work and his father has disappeared. Whatever the excuse, the parents should not be around for the key moments when the children have to take action. They need to use their own cleverness, strengths, and intelligence to succeed on their own so they can learn about themselves.

So, I will say it again: Adults do not belong in children’s books!

June 15, 2011

General Writing: Age Appropriate Wording

Filed under: General Writing, Genre — Tags: , — ax20 @ 7:50 pm

One of the most frustrating things to happen when you’re reading a book is to be suddenly pulled out of a book because the wording doesn’t make sense–a stupid character starts using big words, ten-year-olds suddenly sound like they’re fifty, a toddler talks in long coherent sentences…It isn’t only dialogue you have to consider, though this is often the biggest culprit. if you’re writing a first person novel then every word you write is a reflection of the character and thus must be appropriate to that character.

Check out this blog post for more on this idea:
To Delve or Not to Delve That is the Question

General Writing: Dystopias

Filed under: General Writing, Genre — Tags: , — ax20 @ 7:43 pm

Dystopian novels are all the rage right now, especially in the YA world, but writing them is a difficult process. You have to create an entire, complicated universe where things have gone wrong.

For some help writing a dystopian novel, read this post:
Elana Johnson: Creating a Dystopian Setting

June 1, 2011

General Writing: YA vs Adult Writing

Filed under: General Writing, Genre — Tags: , — ax20 @ 2:34 pm

There is always a lot of discussion about this subject, so I am going to compile a list of posts from a few different sources that talk about this subject. Here is a particularly good post by author Sara Kendall, who recently sold a book to Harper Children’s:

Writing YA Versus Adult Fiction: what’s the difference?

March 4, 2010

General Writing: Root For The Home Team

Filed under: General Writing, Genre — Tags: , — ax20 @ 10:30 pm

Sports books. This is a genre that I’ve been finding myself enjoying more and more lately. One of the nice things about them (and something that is always a huge plus for publishers) the way sports books tend to transfer well to the big screen. Think The Blind Side, Field of Dreams, Fever Pitch, Million Dollar Baby, Friday Night Lights, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Seabiscuit, Whip It, Invictus, Blue Crush, etc. While all of these movies vary in quality they all share the fact that they were adapted from a book. And these are just some of the many movies that have been made from sports books.

Think about what was particularly appealing about these movies. Was it the fact that they were about people playing sports? No. Sports was the vehicle for which a story of human triumph is told. Or if not human triumph then some other triumph. The point is, it isn’t a specific sport that makes the story. It isn’t even necessarily the fact that there is a sport. What makes the story so fantastic is the way that we connect with the characters, see them struggle and overcome the tremendous odds against them or overcome some great adversity.

Think about the Olympics this year. One of the biggest stories was Lindsey Vonn. The question of whether or not she would be able to race after her enormous crash was on everyone’s minds. And then she went and won gold in her first race. In the next three of four races she did not finish due to crashes but the big story is that she won gold despite her injury. I’m not saying she wouldn’t be a big story without that, but that is the detail that makes her not just great but inspiring.

This seems like a fairly obvious idea, but it’s easy to forget about this detail when you are thinking up a story about a great hockey player or a gymnast who medals at the Olympics. Unless you are writing a history book, it isn’t the sport that makes it great. It is, like any other story, the character, culture. The fight.

November 15, 2009

General Writing: The Rules of Fantasy

Filed under: General Writing, Genre — Tags: , — ax20 @ 7:06 pm

One of the fun things about fantasy is that all these things that could never happen in real life can happen in fantasy. You can apparate or channel or fly…all the things you wish you can do are possible and it feels like all the rules of nature go out the window. The key in that sentence: “it feels like.”

Any good fantasy writer knows that while magic changes the rules, it doesn’t mean there are none. I’ll give you some examples:

Harry Potter– as any Harry Potter fan knows, JK Rowling set up an extremely intricate world of magic. JKR spent five years developing the laws of magic. For example there are the “Principal Exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration” which are the five things that cannot be done by magic (such as conjure food out of thin air).

Sword of Truth– in Terry Goodkind’s books, magic has a different set of laws. There are two distinct types of magic, additive and subtractive. Zed, possessing only additive magic, can create, but not destroy, so while he can make a beard grow, he cannot make it vanish.

Narnia– if you remember, Aslan could only come back to life because he willingly sacrificed his life for another. (I take issue with this only because he knew the old laws and so it isn’t a sacrifice because he knew he’d come back, but you get the point.)

Percy Jackson and the Olympians
– in this series, mortals as a whole cannot see magic and generally cannot be hurt by magical items. For example, Percy’s magical sword, Riptide, cannot kill a regular person but can destroy monsters.

To go even more old school, Achilles was unassailable, except for his heel, which was his fatal weakness.

There can be loopholes of course, but those loopholes must fit in with the established system, because if anyone can do anything, then everything becomes ridiculous and there is no longer any dramatic tension. (Read more about this on this Wikipedia page.)

Additionally, people take magic pretty seriously. So the things in the story need to make sense not just be convenient for you. How do characters learn magic? Can anyone do it? Do you need to attend school for it? Or be an apprentice? Is it inborn? The details of acquiring magic are key. So if you have a character who wants to curse somebody, simply saying “well, his uncle knew magic and he gave him a book with an evil curse that let him do whatever he wanted” isn’t enough. A scene like this calls up questions: Is the uncle evil? Would he give someone a book of strong magic to someone who knew nothing of magic and its consequences? Would he even have such a book in the first place?

There are a lot of things to think about, such as the dangers and consequences of using magic. The Sword of Truth series discusses consequences a lot. In the first book they defeat the bad guy only to discover that the way they did it actually caused an even greater problem. In the Sword of Shannara Series by Terry Brooks, magic is scene to have negative consequences as well, corrupting and often hurting those who use it.

The rules, and the weaknesses, are as important as any other aspect of the story. They are what make it any good instead of just another story any five year old could have thought up.g

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