Monday, September 26, 2011

I Can Bring Home the Bacon!

Song of the Day: "Quiet Little Voices" ~We Were Promised Jet Packs

Deren Hansen posted on Utah Children's Writers regarding what it means to have a strong female main character in YA novels. This is something I've thought a lot about, so I decided to add my own opinion on my blog.

Here are the two quotes Deren used that were meaningful to me:

Sheila Nielson

"There are more kinds of strength than the 'kick butt' kind. The women who had the greatest influence on me all had a quiet, daily kind of strength."

Clint  Johnson

"In the best stories, the strongest characters are those that act with the greatest strength in spite of their weaknesses."

When I read agent blogs, I frequently find that agents are looking for stories with "a strong female lead."

I think writers tend to interpret that as kick butt heroines, like Angelina Jolie in Salt. Girls that can go in with guns blazing. And sure, they have a softer side, a weak spot, but it's buried so deep, very few get to see it.

Unfortunately, while that makes a great action movie, I don't think it's the best for YA. Most teenage girls don't relate to characters like that. YA girls are vulnerable, conflicted--they want to fit in, but they also want to stand out, they want to find their place in life. Like Anne of Green Gables.

I believe teen girls today relate to the kinds of characters mentioned by Sheila and Clint. Regular girls just trying to figure out life, but when faced with difficult circumstances, they put their weaknesses aside and step up to the plate. 

As Exhibit A, I submit Twilight. Why is that book so darn popular? I think teens relate to Bella. An average girl, average intelligence, living an average life--just trying to fit in while still maintaining her identity. 

Then of course, when the handsome, immortal hottie shows interest in her, it's every teenage girl's dream come true. If it could happen to regular old Bella, it could happen to them.

But is Bella a "strong female lead"? Good question. She seems a little bland, vulnerable. For an answer I submit Exhibit B, Twilight. In the end *spoiler alert* Bella is faced with an option to sacrifice herself to save her mother. This is a choice that almost all teens can relate to. It's personal, not save the world or the random hostage, it's save someone you know and love and who loves you. Teens, as we all know, are very "me" centered. 

But the real heart of the matter is that Bella chooses to live life on her own terms. And that is something all YA girls want. And that is why Twilight has sold over a million copies. Bella may not be the strongest of female lead characters in terms of fight, but she is the kind teen girls totally relate to, and that's what teen girls want. 

*Please note that I refer only to Twilight, and none of the other books in the saga. They are a completely different story!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Teen Eyes Blogfest

Heads up to another blogfest, "Can You Hook a Teen" hosted by Brenda Drake - find the details here.

Genre: YA Romantic Suspense

Chapter One: Christian vs. the Stowaway

I always thought making life or death decisions would be more dramatic. Thrilling. Like something from a movie. I should have known better.             
            Last week, I chose death. It didn’t work out.
            Today, I chose life. And for me, that meant leaving.
            I tossed the last of my gear into the back of my Range Rover. The car my father gave me just after I turned sixteen. That was over a year ago. He hadn’t spoken to me since. Maybe I should have felt guilty for using it to ditch him, but I didn’t. Just because he had a son didn’t mean he wanted one.
            In ten minutes, I arrived at my first stop. The cemetery. I pulled in and followed the wide curve of the lane until I came to a huge cedar tree. I grabbed the cellophane wrapped flowers I bought at the gas station and wove my way through the forest of headstones to my mother’s grave.
            I’d sat here many times, telling her about Dad, how he hated me, and how my life was messed. It never changed anything, but I felt better—for a few days at least. I barely remembered her now. 
            More than anything, I remembered after she died. When Dad checked out and never really came back. At least not to me. For him, it was like I didn’t exist.
            And now, the time had come to make that a reality. How else could I avoid a repeat of last week’s lapse in judgment? 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bad Movies: A Blogfest

Currently Reading: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Apparently, there is some kind of blogfest going on about Worst Movies Ever. Read about it here. Well, you know I have to get in on that one!

So here, in no particular order, are some of the worst movies according to my own internal movie-crap radar. 
I know, I know. This was hyped as the best movie ever. And that's part of the problem, it was over-hyped. After hearing amazing things about this movie, I finally saw it and... well, it was lame. The plot is pointless because in the end, nothing happens. The whole movie is the explanation of dream invasion or the actual dream invasion, but in reality, nothing happens. It ended with something about the wife, but we don't really know for sure, and we don't really care about her anyway. If you want a good movie about dream invasion, try Dreamscape. 

Fly Away Home
I think my main problem with this movie is timing. My timing. I watched it on the one year anniversary of my sister's death. Big mistake. The first ten minutes of Fly Away Home is the death scene and drama of Anna Paquin's mother. Waaaay to sad for me that day.

First of all, Kevin Costner. Need I say more. Couple bad acting with bad screen writing and you get Waterworld. 

TRON Legacy
Yes, this is another blockbuster. But this movie proves once and for all that the best special effects in the world can't make up for melodramatic acting, cheesy lines, and predictable plots. Plus, where exactly is Tron? Inside the game console? Outer space? I don't know, and I don't really care.

Ok, tossing Nicolas Cage and all his problems aside, this started out as a deliciously creepy suspense movie. And then derailed into a twisted mess of environmental, apocolyptic, and dare I say biblical mumbo jumbo. Adam and Eve? Are you kidding me? Blech!

The Ghost Writer
Yet another example where the ending kills the movie (literally and figuratively!) This seems to be a common theme for me. The story was intriguing and I like Ewan McGregor, generally speaking. But the last five minutes ruin the whole movie. I just wasted two hours of my life for this? Not worth it. An unexpected twist in the plot is a good thing. A random act that doesn't tie in to the plot at all is just the writer trying to be manipulative in an attempt to create shock value. Well, it doesn't work. It never has. It's fake and stupid.

City of Angels
Some people love this movie. I can't stand it. First of all, Nicolas Cage again. And secondly, I fundamentally don't agree with the choices he makes in this movie. And last, it's too dang sad.

Failure to Launch
Way to predictable. Really, there wasn't one single scene in this entire movie that I couldn't have predicted. This is the problem with most romantic comedies. We know how they are going to end: Boy gets Girl, or vice versa. The challenge with romantic comedies is to throw in some original twists and turns that set the movie apart from the other millions of romantic comedies. Very few can actually pull it off.
So there's my list. There are tons more, but these are the first I thought of. Agree or disagree, it's up to you. But in the end, you know I'm right.  :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

The End from the Beginning, or rather The Beginning from the End

Weather Check: Bright and sunny. I guess there's no excuse for not getting out there and exercising!

We all know how important the first chapter is in catching an agents eye, but some writers can't seem to get past it. They spend months and months revising and editing trying to get it perfect, but never get around to finishing the book.

The best way to have a perfect first chapter is to FINISH THE BOOK. 

The first chapter sets up the whole novel. If the ending is unwritten, how can the first chapter set up the story to its full extent?

The first chapter should do several things:

1. Have a hook. Grab the reader’s attention and give them an idea of what to expect. But how can the writer know what the reader should expect until the work is completed as a whole?

2. Create a sense of voice. Voice takes time to develop. If you want a consistent voice, you have to write to the end. By the end of your story, you're voice will be organic and real. Then go back and fix the voice in the first chapter to make it consistent.

3. Use the perfect POV. Meaning that whichever point of view you choose to write from, it should be for a reason. And all the other elements in the story--setting, description, emotion--should be told only as they relate to the MC and the point of view. Sometimes it's hard to know if the point of view we've chosen is the right one for the story until we've gotten to the end of the book.

4. Establish the main problem of the story. According to Martine Leavitt, the best books must have the problem front and center. I've found for me, the problem I start out writing about doesn’t always end up being the most important one in the novel. That’s why it’s so important to know the end before the beginning can be perfected.

Finish your work. Let it sit. Then go back and revise the heck out of your first chapter. Your work will be stronger, more powerful, and more meaningful if you do.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Battle of the Century: Story vs. Writing

Quote of the Day: "I think God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability." ~Oscar Wilde

This is the question I've been asking myself lately: What makes for the best books--sublime writing or an amazing story?

If you hope to win a Newbery Honor, you might need to lean toward perfect writing. If you want to make it to the New York Times best-seller list, then a well crafted story could be enough.

I read a book a few months ago where the writing was so awful I wanted to throw the book at the wall. How could this much telling and repetitive language make it to the NYT best-sellers list? Didn't this author know anything about good writing? But the truth is, I couldn't put it down. I had to read all night to find out what happens. The intense, original story and great characters drew me.

Last week I read book with some fantastic writing--clever, moving, full of meaningful imagery, great dialogue. But I had to force myself to finish it. I didn't care about the main character, I didn't care about her friends. All that beautiful language was wasted on yet another story of a tortured teen who suddenly discovers she has super/paranormal powers and then finds herself in cliched situations. It was so predictable, I already knew the ending by reading the jacket cover.

Of course the best answer is C) All of the above. Writing and plot working together in perfect--and perfected--unison.

So, what do you think? Story versus Writing Throwdown--who wins?