Have you ever been in the midst of editing a manuscript and wished you could physically move sections of your story around? Are you a kinesthetic or visual person who might benefit from a more hands-on method of interacting with your outline?
A tangible outline might be the method for you.
What I mean by a tangible outline is a story outline written out on physical pieces of paper, enabling you to interact with your outline in ways that you cannot do on a computer screen. In my own editing experience, creating this form of outline has been incredibly beneficial for stories that need major revisions such as deleting or moving chapters. I find it much easier to work with slips of paper that I can swap around to different locations than adding or deleting bullet points on a Word document. This way, I can try out various ways of ordering my chapters without actually changing my official outline each time.
This method also works wonders if you need to focus in on a certain character or theme within your story. If you create a slip of paper for each chapter in your manuscript, but write chapter numbers or titles featuring that character or theme in a different color, you can track where the character or theme appears throughout the story. This makes it easy to see if the appearance of that character or theme is scarce in one area of the story or too regular in another. You can also determine if your characters learn information at the proper moments by evaluating those moments within the larger picture of your outline.
If you are interested in creating your own tangible outline, this is how I do it:
Step One: Gather Supplies
I cut pieces of paper into small slips, enough to have one slip for each chapter of your manuscript. I also recommend using colored writing utensils so that you can code certain characters, themes, or a specific category of chapter in varying colors. The colors enhance the visual aspect of the outline and make it easy to see where certain storylines progress. I used sharpies, but colored pens or pencils would also work.
Step Two: Create and Arrange Outline
Here's an example of three slips from an outline of one of my manuscripts. For this outline, I color-coded it based on the priority of the chapter and the main character's relationships (ex. pink = important interactions with the romantic interest). Obviously my outline is much longer than three slips of paper, but I wanted to give an idea of the purpose of the different colors. By using this method, I am able to see if too much priority is placed on interactions with the romantic interest throughout the manuscript, and if so where I could include further development with other primary characters.
This could similarly be achieved by highlighting bullets on a Word document, but by using a tangible outline I can easily move the slips of paper around in a variety of patterns to determine the best order. It's also easy to add in slips or take away slips and see how that change would affect the balance of your storytelling.
Every writer has his/her/their own method of writing and revising, but if you think a tangible outline might help you feel more engaged in the revision process, I highly suggest trying it out. It has helped me a lot with major revisions in the past, and I expect I will use it again in the future.
Moving from college towards a new stage of life and living situation has meant purging belongings that don't make the cut. As someone whose first thought when it comes to favored belongings goes straight to my book collection, it was not easy to consider--let alone go through with--purging books from that collection. Especially when I never got around to actually reading many of those books.
Alas, I did the unthinkable, and I will tell you why I feel lighter for having done so.
Reading has been a primary interest of mine since childhood, but my reading frenzy slowed tremendously partway through high school and into college. Homework, required reading, and extracurricular activities took its place. My TBR shelf mocked me for years with unfinished series and dozens of interesting debuts that I couldn't or wouldn't squeeze into my schedule.
I didn't feel entirely the same during that period of time. Books were a huge part of my life previously and the focus of my ideal future, so the lack of regular reading time left a hole that nagged at me constantly. How could I leave the third or fourth book of a beloved series sitting on a shelf unread? How could I improve my writing or stay current in the industry if I wasn't reading books?
Eventually, a few good books pulled me back in and I made it a personal mission to prioritize reading once again. But the TBR shelf remained. Staring at me. Shaming me for abandoning it all those years. And what did I do?
I bought more books.
I wanted to read new releases and stay current with the market. I gave in to their irresistible siren's call. They were fresh, and new, and--as I eventually realized--they did not remind me of times I wished to forget. The books on my TBR shelf dated back to high school. After years of feeling pressure to catch up with books I had long abandoned, I finally realized what I wanted most was to move on.
Culling my TBR shelf was not easy. It required giving up on series I had once cared about but would probably never fully connect to again. It meant discarding books I had barely even touched, which felt like a complete waste. But it also meant freeing myself of a burden I hadn't realized had become so heavy. It opened my shelves to new possibilities and new adventures, which I am excited to experience.
The books purged from my TBR shelf will serve a much better purpose in the hands of their next owners than they did accumulating dust on my bookcase. The TBR shelf is an iconic piece of a bookaholic's existence, but if your TBR shelf plagues you as much as mine did, consider taking another look and deciding which books you truly want to dedicate your time to, and which are there out of pure obligation. There's a chance you will feel much lighter afterwards.
Besides, trimming a TBR shelf doesn't mean you no longer have a book obsession. What did I do immediately after purging mine?
I went to B&N and I bought more books.
It’s been a while, but I’m back! Although I usually try to post to this blog every week or two weeks, over a month has passed since my last entry, 5 Reasons to Pitch on Twitter. I decided to take a step back because it was my last month of undergrad, I had a dance showcase to organize and perform in, final papers to write, a college to graduate from, and friends and family to spend time with. In the end, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and East Asian Studies with a Minor in Japanese, and proceeded to spend four days traipsing through amusement parks.
A break from the writing world was needed, but difficult to take. In April, I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo and set a goal of 20-25k words. I had ideas for my WIP and a desire to write it, but it fell too low on my priority list. Prioritizing school, RevPit, and DVpit meant allowing that goal to fall by the wayside.
That was a hard decision. After all, if I could meet the 50k goal in November, why couldn't I write half that amount in April? I felt disappointed in myself for knowing I would not meet what at first had seemed a reasonable goal. But at that point in time, it was not a reasonable goal. I could have forced myself to make it happen, but it would have meant stressing myself out, taking my energy and focus away from other areas of my life, and probably pushing out poor writing. In the end, it wasn't worth it. I might not have met my goal, but I did write part of it, and that is just as important.
I have certainly missed writing and engaging in the writing world. I've missed out on discussions and writing challenges, and I have a growing list of editing to-do's. But I also needed the mental break. I needed a chance to take a step back and think about where I want to go next with my writing. Where do I want to focus my efforts? Which story keeps popping into my head?
Taking a break as a writer can be very difficult. With so many sources telling you to write every day or as often as possible, it feels like failure to press the pause button. But it's not. Just as with every creative endeavor or profession, writers can burn out and deplete their wells of creativity. Pushing your way through writer's block is one thing, but forcing yourself to write when it will be more detrimental than not is not worth the mental strain.
If you need a break, take it. Let your mind wander. Let it rest. Engage more in the other areas of your life. All of this will help you in the end. Living life breeds inspiration, and that inspiration will fuel you once you have the energy to dive back into writing. When you're in it for the long haul, you have to learn to take breaks or you won't make it. The stories will still be there, the community will still be around, and you will feel more engaged with both after you've taken a step back.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for regular posts again!
Hello everyone! If you spend any time on the book side of Twitter, you probably know how hectic this week is. Saturday marked the start of #RevPit, a contest during which writers submit their work to editors in hopes of winning a free critique of their entire manuscript. Although winners and runners up will not be announced until next Monday, the editors are busy sending requests for more materials and posting #10queries critiques on Twitter (tweet-length critiques of queries they received during submissions). These #10queries fill the Twitter feed with examples for all writers to learn from, whether they submitted or not.
On top of #RevPit, a Twitter pitch event called #DVpit occurs this Wednesday and Thursday. #DVpit is a pitch event for marginalized writers and illustrators, including but not limited to native peoples and people of color, disabled people or people living with an illness, and people falling on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Literary agent Beth Phelan created this event as a way to boost the voices of historically underrepresented writers. Just like any Twitter pitch event, #DVpit will fill Twitter feeds with hundreds of pitches from a variety of writers hoping to secure representation.
Twitter pitch days are a flurry of activity and excitement, but they can also be stressful and disappointing. If you are a writer that has never participated, you might be wondering why you should bother pitch your manuscript on Twitter. In honor of this week's events, here are five reasons to participate in Twitter pitch events:
1. Practice Formulating a Concise Pitch
Participating in a pitch event requires you to have at least one concise pitch of your manuscript, but preferably more. Considering these events happen through Twitter, concise now means within 280 characters. There are many resources for perfecting your pitch, but a favorite resource of mine is writer and editor Meg LaTorre, who consistently posts articles and videos about the writing and publishing process. She has a video on her YouTube channel about How to Write a Twitter Pitch for Your Manuscript.
Formulating your pitch benefits you in more ways than simply supplying you with a pitch to use. It forces you to think through your manuscript's main character, primary conflict, and stakes--but in a very concise way. You must break these aspects down to their barest components yet still catch the eye of anyone perusing the feed. If you cannot think of distinct ways to characterize your main character in the length of a tweet, perhaps you need to develop your MC more. If you cannot think of the personal stakes your MC faces, perhaps you need to heighten the stakes of your manuscript. Formulating a pitch forces you to think through your manuscript in this way.
2. Meet Other Writers
Twitter pitch events or contests might seem purely competitive, and you can make it that way if you choose, but that is not how it should be. These events bring writers together in an act of sharing their work. Some participants of #RevPit created a Facebook support group that now has 167 members. I have met other writers through practice pitch events, and now I am invested in their own writing journeys because I like them as people and I am interested in seeing their stories come to life. Meeting other writers also creates a group to build you up during pitch events, since retweeting each other's pitches boosts those pitches in the feed.
3. Get to Know Agents and Editors
You will quickly learn after joining Twitter that literary agents and editors are amazing, spectacular people. I would love to be friends with them all. They are funny and supportive, and many of them give a lot of their free time to answering questions and helping aspiring authors. Participating in Twitter events allows you to engage with these agents and editors, and find people you want to follow. Regardless of how the event turns out for your own writing, following these agents and editors fills your Twitter feed with resources and lively personalities.
4. Learn from Other Pitches
Writing might seem like an isolated hobby or profession, but if you want to improve, it most definitely is not. Not only do Twitter pitch events allow you to meet other writers, but they help you learn from those writers' pitches. Depending on the writer, these pitches become examples of what to do or what not to do. If a writer's pitch really caught your attention and got you interested in his/her/their story, what about the pitch made it do so? How can you incorporate those techniques into your own pitching? If a writer's pitch bogged you down or confused you, why? How could that writer improve such a pitch, and how can you learn from that mistake?
5. Potentially Be a Success Story
This step seems necessary to include, since it is the main reason people pitch their stories. Writers want to be offered representation from literary agents, and Twitter pitch events are another opportunity to link writers and agents together. If you pitch on Twitter and an agent likes it, you then send that agent a query and any other requested materials. Just like with any form of querying, there is no guarantee of success. However, according to Beth Phelan, #DVpit has created 65 success stories, including 27 book deals. These successes happen, and if you keep working towards it, you can become one someday too.
Those are my five reasons for participating in Twitter pitch events, but I'm sure there are many more. For anyone participating in #RevPit or #DVpit this week, I wish you the utmost luck. I hope to write blog posts soon about knowing when to pitch and how to formulate a pitch, so stay tuned for more content about pitching both on and off Twitter. If you are looking for industry professionals to follow, head over to the #RevPit website to read about the amazing participating editors. If you want to stay on top of the dates for pitch events, check out Meg LaTorre's Pitch Contest Calendar.
School has kept me busy, but I managed to participate in last week's #PhotoStoryPrompt (albeit a little late). #PhotoStoryPrompt (previously known as #PhotoStoryChallenge) is a flash fiction exercise created by Radina Valova, which challenges writers to use her photographs as inspiration for a story or part of a story. Participants write flash fiction anywhere from the length of a tweet to the length of a full short story. It can also be a great exercise for getting to know a character you already have in mind, or sparking new ideas for characters and stories in the future.
Above is last Thursday's photo prompt. The rules of the challenge were that the main character must use a shovel and say the words "it has to." An optional challenge was to write it as a screenplay.
I've participated in a few of these challenges now, but I decided to bring back my characters from my first challenge. I posted a recap of that challenge's flash fiction if you'd like to read a previous scene between these characters. Something about the juxtaposition of a farm girl and a demon queen won't get out of my head. There's a chance I will turn this story into something longer and thought out in the future, but for now, enjoy my unedited flash fiction below.
“How do you know it will come this way?” Annora asked.
“It has to,” I said. “The barriers you placed around the spawning location will bar it from going towards town, and these trees are packed in tightly enough to be a barrier themselves. This road is the clearest path to the farm.”
The wooden handle of my shovel scraped my palm as I leaned against it. The shovel had served me many times before on the farm. It was familiar—a memory of home, of my seventeen years spent in the most mundane of ways. It probably never expected to be used to dig up the crown of a demon queen, or fight off undead monsters. But that’s life for you, I guess. Sometimes years of mundanity build up to one spectacular moment.
“What do you plan to do when it comes?” Annora asked. “Hit it with your shovel?”
I swiveled the shovel against the asphalt so I faced her as she paced back and forth beneath the bridge. For a demon queen, she was quite fidgety. Maybe it was all that fire inside her, searching for a release.
“I thought maybe you, with all of your demonic fire powers, could fight it,” I said. “But if that fails, then yes, I will use the shovel.”
Annora paused in her pacing to search my face, as if determining if I was joking or not. “We might consider something more practical.” I scoffed, and rubbed my forehead. Dirt from my fingers smudged onto my skin. “What?”
“Nothing,” I said. The road stretched ahead. Silent. Waiting. Birds called to each other among the trees, apparently unaware of the approaching force. The gravel along the road shifted with Annora’s renewed pacing. The juxtaposition of normal and abnormal fed the anxiety clawing at my stomach until I gripped the shovel so tightly a splinter bit into my skin. “Annora.”
The shifting gravel stopped. I breathed in, and faced her.
“Don’t leave me,” I said.
The skin between Annora’s black brows pinched together. “I would never leave you to fight—”
“No,” I said, pushing the shovel to the ground as I stepped closer. It clanged against the asphalt and then settled into silence. “I’m not talking about leaving me in these woods. I’m talking about leaving me leaving me. For good, never to be seen again.”
“Do you think I want to do that?” she asked.
The thumping of my heart filled my ears as heat burned my skin. “You made me promise to let you go.”
“My kingdom is dying,” she said. “If I can’t get back there to help my people, this is going to keep happening. Monsters from my world will invade yours. Do you want that?”
“Of course not,” I said. Another breath. “But I want you.”
Annora’s expression went slack with surprise. “Charlotte—”
I huffed. “Don’t ‘Charlotte’ me when I am standing here telling you how I feel. Either you want me or you don’t. Tell me.”
“It is far more complicated than that,” Annora said. “I can’t stay in this town with you forever. I can’t be trapped in a pact with you forever.”
“I am not asking you to do any of that!” I exclaimed. “I get it. You have responsibilities, and a kingdom, and you live in another world. Is a vacation completely out of the question? Maybe a letter here and there?”
Annora watched me. All her fidgeting had stopped, leaving her uncharacteristically still. I held my arms at my side, refusing to cross them, refusing to hide from her.
“Do you want me?” I asked.
“I want you,” she said. No hesitation.
My breath slipped out in a sigh of relief. “Good. That’s good.” My heart still pounded in my chest. It was worse than the time I had to ask Grady Mills to prom. Worse than standing up for a speech in front of my class.
Annora strode straight through the puddle between us, pulled me into her arms, and kissed me firmly on the mouth. I curled my fingers into her shoulders, against the worn fabric of the shirt she borrowed and her soft, dark skin beneath. The smell of dirt, sweat, and cedar filled my nose. No fire and brimstone.
Then I realized the pounding in my ears no longer came from my own beating heart, but from an external source, and I pushed Annora back to face the monster charging down the road on all four legs. Green flames burned along its arched back and its mouth hung open to reveal a plethora of glistening teeth.
With half my brain still focused on that kiss and the other struggling to process the oncoming threat, all I managed to get out was, “I told you so.”
Annora snorted, kicked the shovel up into her hand, and pushed the handle into mine.
“Here,” she said. “In case my demonic fire powers fail me.”
That's all for now. Stay tuned for future challenge recaps. Meanwhile, I need to jump back into writing for my CampNaNoWriMo word count goal, and stop getting distracted by a farm girl's pact with a demon queen. Check out Radina Valova on Twitter for weekly #PhotoStoryPrompts. If you'd like to read the other contributions to the challenge, go here.
Before I say anything else, let me say this: if you started reading Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake and put it down before finishing, pick it back up. It will be worth it.
Three Dark Crowns is a dark, Game of Thrones-esque tale of the Island of Fennbirn and its triplet queens, who in every generation must fight to the death to determine the Queen Crowned. Each sister represents a traditional family on Fennbirn as well as a category of magic: Mirabella is an elementalist, Katharine a poisoner, and Arsinoe a naturalist. The story follows the perspectives not only of the triplets destined to kill each other, but also several of their followers and companions, who all have a stake in their queen winning.
Three Dark Crowns caught my interest the moment I first picked it off a shelf, and it instantly earned a place on my book wish list. However, when I started reading, the excitement wore off. I wasn't prepared for the many POVs, the triplet queens seemed nowhere near as impressive as their descriptions on the book jacket. Despite the detailed worldbuilding, I couldn't attach myself to the story.
Thankfully, I kept reading. I let go of the story I expected to read and adjusted to the story Kendare Blake wished to tell. Not only does Blake build an interesting and believable world, but she creates an atmosphere that sets this world apart from others and sucked me in the further and further I read. Plotting families willing to do whatever it takes to crown their queen, unpredictable magic, an island seemingly alive and unwilling to let the queens go, queens who do not live up to expectations and another who has no desire to kill her sisters--all of these factors combine to form an intriguing setting with provocative characters.
The atmosphere of Three Dark Crowns truly makes the story and builds the conflict. Blake manages to construct this atmosphere while revealing new character aspects, foreshadowing future incidents, and breathing life into a twisted world. This off-putting yet addictive atmosphere primarily arises from the characters scheming to assist the queens, the various systems of magic, and the Island of Fennbirn itself.
Although I did not expect the plethora of characters involved in Three Dark Crowns, their varying personalities and methods of scheming add a dark twist to the story. Madrigal never fit her role as a mother, but delves into low magic to assist Arsinoe, and through her, Jules. High Priestess Luca comes across as a gentle, grandmother figure to Mirabella, yet agrees with Rho's plan to tear Arisnoe and Katharine apart in order to make Mirabella a White-Handed Queen. Cold Natalia will poison anyone in her path, but the subtle hints of her motherly love for Katharine define her.
"Arsinoe never thinks of Madrigal as beautiful, though many, many people do. "Beautiful" is too gentle a word for what she is."--Kendare Blake, Three Dark Crowns pg. 80
The various groups of magic add further depth and intrigue to these characters, and the interests of the queens. Beyond the three primary categories--elementalists, poisoners, and naturalists--the war gift is powerful yet fading and the oracle gift supposedly turns queens insane. Among all of these powers, even the ungifted can perform low magic, but beyond the blood given to empower it, it often involves a greater sacrifice.
"Now that the magic is made, it feels wrong. A crooked thing, twisted through with good intentions. She does not know why she did it. She has no excuse, except that it was easy, and nothing has ever come easily to her before."--Kendare Blake, Three Dark Crowns pg. 85
Blake weaves the same twisted nature of Three Dark Crown's characters and magic into the Island of Fennbirn itself. Throughout the story, the island seems more and more alive, and it wants its queens too much to let them go. The mist surrounding the island captures Arsinoe during multiple attempts to escape, and the Breccia Domain holds the bodies of dead queens and calls to Katharine when she first glimpses it. The life of Fennbirn makes the entire story feel more alive because the characters themselves are not the only entities with something to gain or lose.
"The Breccia Domain feels. The Breccia Domain is, in that way that so many other sacred places on Fennbirn are, but the Domain is where all those other places connect. It is the source. Had Katharine been raised in the temples like Mirabella, she might have better words for the hum in the air and how it makes the back of her neck prickle . . .
Three Dark Crowns drew me in, and its sequel One Dark Throne left me speechless. Kendare Blake creates a living world with multi-faceted characters that are impossible to root entirely for or against. I completely recommend adding it to your TBR shelf. Head to your local bookseller or library, or find it online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other online booksellers. Also check out Kendare Blake's website for more information on her and her other work.
What are your thoughts? If you've read Three Dark Crowns, how did it come across to you?
Here in Florida it feels like summer, and throughout the country it feels like winter, but happy first day of Spring! Winter tends to breed sadness and depression, but spring brings me thoughts of pretty flowers, cute animals, and an overall sense of positivity. In honor of the season, I'd like to share my thoughts on the power of positive feedback in the editing process.
I've worked as a college writing tutor for the past three years. Part of our training for assisting other students with papers is to point out areas where the student has done well. Even if these positive remarks appear far less often than the critical remarks, they serve as concrete examples of what the student has done well and should continue to do in the future.
I believe the same mindset should apply to critique partners, beta readers, and anyone else involved in the editing process for creative works. Critique is so important. Without critique, a writer's work will never improve because it will never be forced to change. But critique should not entirely eclipse positive feedback.
Positive feedback tells a writer, "I liked this. You did this well. You should continue along this vein in the future." As someone critiquing a work, it's easy to feel sucked into searching for what to fix, and consequently overlook what already succeeds. If you don't critique a particular section, that implies to the writer that section is fine. Right?
Not necessarily. From a writer's perspective, if you only receive critique, you start to wonder, "Was any of it good?" No matter how braced you are for criticism, it's a very discouraging thought to have.
For me, a little positive feedback goes a long way. One positive comment amid a wave of critique keeps me going, even if that comment is a simple "haha" in the margins. I love that! My magic system might need more explanation or my paragraphs reorganization, but at least that line made someone laugh. On Friday I have a Skype appointment with Eric Smith, an author and literary agent I greatly admire, to discuss my query letter and first ten pages. As the amazing person he is, he already sent me written comments. His critique and suggestions opened my mind to ways I could improve, but the positive comments he wove throughout made it all seem more rewarding. It reminded me how powerful a positive comment is among critique, and how I hope to do the same to other writers when editing their work.
Keep editing and critiquing. That's how writing evolves. But remember the power of positive feedback, and consider wielding it in your own editing process.
Last Thursday, the book world of Twitter became a flurry of pitches due to #PitMad, an opportunity for writers to pitch their stories to agents through shortened Twitter pitches. Since I have a couple opportunities on the horizon to receive further critique on my manuscript, I decided to hold back from this month's #PitMad and wait for a later opportunity.
In order to distract myself from the temptation of pitching, I instead participated in a writing exercise called #PhotoStoryChallenge. Every week, Radina Valova posts one of her photos on Twitter with a set of rules, and challenges writers to incorporate the photo and rules into a scene. It's a great flash fiction exercise, and it's fun to see the many ways different writers twist the inspiration into a variety of stories. Since I've recently trapped myself in a cycle of editing and worldbuilding, I enjoyed giving myself a chance to write without a care, and it helped jog my creativity. It also strengthened my bond with the participating members of my writing group on Twitter.
Here's a recap of the March 8th challenge:
The rules of the challenge were to write a scene based on this image, and it had to include dialogue between at least two people who want something from each other, and the writer must use the words "is that all."
Apparently when given this set of inspiration, my first instinct is to write about a farm girl and a demon queen. Below is my unedited #PhotoStoryChallenge flash fiction from Thursday.
She didn’t look like a demon queen, leaning against my closet door while the setting sun highlighted her profile. Not the way she did an hour prior, when the fire in her eyes burned against the darkest shadows surrounding her, and for a split moment my fear and awe mixed into a knot of doubt.
“I thought you might kill me earlier,” I said. “Rather than that monster.” The memory of its putrid breath twisted my stomach, and I touched the spot on my neck where its teeth punctured my skin before it fell prey to the demon queen.
Annora pulled her gaze away from the window to look at me. “That would somewhat defeat the purpose of protecting you, would it not?”
The twist in my stomach became something else entirely as I smiled at her. “It might be counterproductive.”
Her dark eyes still simmered with a hint of that flame. “I wouldn’t hurt you.”
I shrugged in an attempt at nonchalance. “I suppose our pact wouldn’t allow you to harm me.”
Annora shook her chin. “It’s not about the pact.”
I arched a brow, but she didn’t elaborate.
“Well,” I said as I pushed to my feet and stretched my arms up, “we should get going. We only have four hours to locate your buried crown and defeat a demonic prince before he destroys you, me, and everyone else in my small but still arguably significant Kansas town.”
The edge of Annora’s mouth twitched up. “Is that all?”
I offered my hand to pull her to her feet, and she paused in front of me. Her warm fingers locked around mine and her extra two inches of height forced me to tilt back in order to meet her eyes. Her rare smile returned to tight-lipped hesitation.
“Annora,” I said. I meant it as a statement, but my concern turned it into a question.
She squeezed my hand. “When this is over,” she said, “you have to let me go.”
A dull ache spread through my chest, but I refused to let it show on my face. Returning to my lonely farm life now seemed more unbelievable than losing my heart to a demon queen.
“I will,” I said, dropping her hand. “I know the rules.”
The look in her eyes echoed the sentiment in my head: neither of us felt confident in my ability to fulfill that promise.
That's all, folks. Follow Radina Valova for more weekly challenges, which I hope to participate in from now on. I also need to tuck this story idea of a farm girl and a demon queen away in my box of ideas-that-cannot-distract-me-from-my-current-work-in-progress. Also, check out Radina's Twitter Memory to read the scenes written by other writers!
I’ve read a few tweets in the past couple days regarding the discussion of f/f (female/female) representation in novels, particularly in the YA category. Writers seem deterred by claims that f/f romance does not have the substantial audience required for it to succeed in the way m/f or m/m romantic plots do, and so agents and editors are less inclined to represent stories featuring f/f romance.
I was actually somewhat surprised to see this discussion pop up, since every agent I personally follow seems desperate for LGBT content. Nonetheless, I think the continued lack of representation in YA literature is a major problem, and writers should fight back against claims that there is not an audience and their stories will not be published. This applies to multiple forms of LGBT representation, but I will focus on f/f since this was the focus of the discussion and it relates the most to my own writing.
It is dismal how difficult it is to find a story based around a non-heterosexual MC that falls for a girl. It’s even harder to find one in speculative fiction, with a storyline that does not center around the MC coming to terms with sexuality. It’s even harder to find one that does not end in heartbreak, death, or overall depression. This mixture gives the impression that if you are a female who falls in love with another female, your life will be riddled with the stress of overcoming your sexuality, and it will likely end in disaster.
This should change. Young Adult literature needs stories of females going on adventures, slaying dragons, fighting demons, and delving into space, while also occasionally developing feelings for other female characters. Even if plots do not revolve around a romance, characters should not be assumed straight until proven otherwise. LGBT readers want to see characters similar to them exploring imaginative worlds—not everyone wants to read about the tragic love between two young women, which inevitably ends in disaster. I myself would rather read about confident and happy females falling in love and working together to make a relationship last. And maybe conquering a kingdom in the meantime.
Changing these long-held beliefs and stigmas will be difficult. The publishing industry does not change overnight, but it can change. There was a time when YA was not a major category, and now it has exploded. People have the power to change the industry if readers, writers, agents, and editors all work to create that change. People might say otherwise, but there are agents and editors who want stories representing f/f romance. Plenty of writers are writing f/f romance, and they should continue to do so. Lastly, readers should support the stories that currently exist. Show the world that an audience exists, and wants more.
Writing and publishing is not an easy career, and writing and publishing LGBT content is harder still. But I think it is very, very worth it.
If you are interested in reading speculative fiction with f/f romance, my recommendations are unfortunately scarce. Malinda Lo has published multiple novels in a variety of genres featuring female MCs falling for female characters. I have read both Ash and Huntress, but you can read about her other novels on her website. Recently, I discovered a newly published YA fantasy called Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller, which follows a gender-fluid MC who seems to fall for a female character. I haven’t had the chance to read it, but it was a promising sight to see, and it will definitely be next on my TBR list.
If you have any thoughts about the inclusion of f/f representation in YA literature, or recommendations for stories already featuring this representation, feel free to comment below.
Warning: This post contains minor spoilers.
I’ve spent the past couple weeks worldbuilding for a new story, and sometimes it’s helpful to find examples of authors who have successfully built and presented imaginative worlds in their books. Creating a world can be hard enough, but weaving information into your story without the use of info dumps forms another challenge in itself. Marie Lu does a fantastic job with both tasks in her latest book, Warcross.
Warcross takes place in the not-too-distant future of earth, specifically in New York City and Tokyo. In this future, virtual reality and a game known as Warcross form a primary component of daily life and culture for many people. Warcross itself becomes a spectator sport, and the virtual reality devices connected to it allow people to experience life around them in a different way—decorated buildings, eccentric fashion, virtual pets, and the like. Real life and virtual life exist together, one on top of the other.
We experience this world through Emika Chen, a bounty hunter whose hacking ability earns her a place in the Warcross Championship, during which Hideo Tanaka, the creator of Warcross, wants her to uncover a security problem. Lu reveals aspects of her futuristic earth in a casual and easily digestible manner. The various interactions with virtual reality technology and its effects on daily life pop up regularly, but not all at once. Most people have Warcross glasses, people use Warcross as a source of income in both legal and illegal ways, the glasses allow users to store memories, and virtual reality can alter the appearances of people and buildings. This consistent introduction of information forms an overall image of Emika’s society, which is a believable future version of our own.
Beyond the depiction of virtual reality’s impact on regular life, Lu’s creation of the virtual world itself reveals her skill with worldbuilding. As a player in the Warcross Championship, Emika enters multiple games, each in a different setting with varying aspects of gameplay: a glacier landscape with enormous beasts trapped inside towers of ice, a sunken city, and a fighting ring for mecha robots. Lu combines these unique settings with the creative power-ups used in gameplay to produce well-paced and intriguing scenes.
Within the legal and popular worlds of Warcross exists the Dark World, location of the Pirate’s Den and Emerald Emporium, where people go to place illegal bets on games, purchase rare power-ups, partake in identity theft, and even hire assassins. Just as with the real world and the world of Warcross, Lu introduces the atmospheric Dark World and the danger surrounding it throughout Emika’s visits. The Dark World becomes a different view of how people utilize Warcross’s virtual reality technology. It makes sense that it exists in this world, and it plays an important role in Emika’s story.
Warcross by Marie Lu serves as a great example of the use of worldbuilding in storytelling. Lu creates an interesting future for earth, and executes it in both a digestible and believable way. This world contains a mix of good and bad, and forms a solid stage for a cast of gray characters. If you have yet to read Warcross, I highly recommend it, for its developed main character, its multiple plot twists, and its well-constructed world.
What are your thoughts? If you haven’t read Warcross, head to your local library or bookstore, or find it online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or another seller. Also check out Marie Lu’s other work on her website.
If you are in the process of worldbuilding, here is a list of fantasy worldbuilding questions by Patricia C. Wrede to help you out.
I write YA fantasy and contemporary fiction. This blog is dedicated to thoughts and advice on writing and publishing, as well as various interests related to the world of Young Adult.