Monday, October 31, 2011

Don't Sleep with the Lights Off

Quote of the Day: "The love-bite, it is the beginning. You will be irresistible" ~Bela Lugosi

For your Halloween entertainment, I will now share the three times I've been really scared. (And I mean Halloweeny scared, not so much "my kid just got run over by a car and might die" scared, which I've also been.)

One time, when my husband was out of town (it always happens when he's out of town), I was watching the movie "What Lies Beneath." With all the kids tucked into bed, the house was quiet and dark. When I started getting that creepy feeling that something might be sneaking up behind me, I couldn't take it any more. I went and got my 4 month old baby out of bed so I wouldn't be alone watching the rest of the movie. Pathetic? Maybe a little.

I use to watch all the X-Files shows. But the "Mothmen" episode really creeped me out. It's set in the ancient forests of Virginia, and everyone who went into the woods disappeared. These freaky, red-eyed, immortal beings were snatching them out of thin air. And always the camera cut to their glowing red eyes, because that's all you could see of them. They could make their skin match their surroundings to become invisible.

In the final shot--spoiler alert--Scully is leaving her hotel room after she thinks they've solved the case. Of course Mulder knows better. Mulder comes and drags Scully from the hotel. The camera pans to under her bed, where a pair of red-eyes is hiding, staring out. I couldn't step out of bed after dark for months knowing that thing might be under it, waiting. And if you're wondering, yes, I do suffer from a bit of nyctophobia!

This last is the most scary because it's based on a true story. One time, when my husband was out of town!, my sister-in-law told me about an incident that happened in her neighborhood. A neighborhood not too far from mine.

A girl (maybe 12 or 13) woke in the night when she felt something touching her. She saw a man standing in her room stroking her arm. She screamed, and the man fled. The police came and searched the house. Finding no signs of forced entry, they concluded that the man had entered the house sometime during the day and hid--either in the basement or attic--until the whole house was asleep. Then he came out and approached the sleeping girl.

Scary. And of course after she told me that, I looked at that little square of ceiling tile that opens into the attic and, naturally, it was askew. Panic.

However, that's not the end of this story. A year or so later, the night before Halloween, I was with a group of girls about that same age, and we were telling them ghost stories. I told them about this incident, and they were deliciously freaked out. I even demonstrated the man rubbing his hand up and down the girl's arm. Shudder.

Well, that was all fine. I was scared, but I walked home in the dark alone anyway. I climbed into bed and was just falling asleep when I felt something touch my arm. I tried not to panic, it was probably just a breeze through my open window. I felt it again.

I rolled over and there was someone standing beside my bed, touching my arm. I screamed so loud that my husband bolted out of bed, his heart racing, and my little daughter burst into tears. Of course, she was the one by my bed, touching me, trying to get my attention because she couldn't sleep.


Any times you have been heart-pounding scared?

Monday, October 24, 2011

YA Voice: Vocabulary

Song of the Day: "Don't Carry It All" by the Decemberists

This is my second post on finding the right voice in your young adult literature. Read Avoiding Sarcasm here.

In this post I'm going to cover teen vocabulary. So, here are a few do's and don'ts.

Be Extremely Careful of Overusing Slang
According to Agent George Nicholson, "Slang dates good fiction more easily than any other single thing." Slang also varies by region, so too much slang makes your book non-universal. If you do use a lot of slang, make sure it reflects something about the character and adds to the depth of the story. Don't just use it to sound teen, teens are expert at picking out phony voice.

The best writing has a richness of language, not just a scramble of slang. Use vocabulary that reflects the time and place you're writing about.

Don't Dumb it Down
But at the same time, it has to sound like something a teen (specifically the one in your book) would actually say. Teens, in some ways, are smarter than we give them credit for. As long as the voice is authentic and rings true, teen readers are open to a wide range of voicing styles.

Mix it Up
Don't give all your characters a similar sounding voice. Vary vocabulary and rhythm to create contrast and interest. Some teens never stop talking, some are only one word anwerers. Some rely on humor, some on emotional extremes.

Keep the Narrative in Voice
Make sure the narrative parts are in the voice of the POV character and not the author's. Maintain continuity.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hard Decisions

Quote of the Day: "In the morning, after hard work, I took a comma out of one sentence.... In the afternoon, I put it back again." ~Oscar Wilde on doing revisions

For the past year I haven't written anything. At least not anything new. I've been working on revising and editing last year's NaNoWriMo project. So I'm really looking forward to November to churn out another train-wreck of a novel I can spend another year trying to fix.

But I can't decide what to work on! I've got three stories churning in my head, all screaming to be written.

Do I finish The Weaver, my Welsh fairy tale? I have a few chapters of that book already written, but they need a serious overhaul. So I'd be basically starting over. I love this book, and I worry if I don't finish it now I never will.

Or, do I write a new story that's been occupying my mind for a long time now, Son of a Thousand Faces, a very dark story that delves more into the paranormal (as much as I hate that word) than any of my other books.

Or, do I work on another manuscript I've been outlining. A Welsh ghost story called Revenant (previously titled Angel and Iron). A chilling and creepy tale. I've heard agents say they're looking for a good ghost story.

How do I choose? NaNo is only 14 days away!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Character Quirks

Quote of the Day: "Why don't they just makes phones that are connected to the base?" From my son after I duct taped the cordless phone to its base with a piece of yarn because I was so sick of it being lost!

A friend of mine and author Tamara Hart Heiner recently wrote a blog about giving our characters personality quirks--little traits that set the character apart from the rest of the world.

Everyone has them. It's what makes us unique.

So here are some of mine:
  • I am obsessed with expiration dates. I check the date on everything before I buy it and I throw out tons of unused food just because it's a few days past expiration.
  • I have to have clean sheets. I wash my sheets sometimes two or three times a week. And only I can make the bed, otherwise, the sheets aren't to my liking.
  • I don't eat leftovers.
  • I'm obsessed with London, England, and the whole of the British Isles. I lived there growing up, and it is my home away from home. 
  • I have to carry dental floss with me at all times. I keep it in my purse, my car, and in various places around the house. 
  • I smell everything. New books, plastic wrappers, even glasses as they come out of the dishwasher.
  • I have a hard time with subtlety. I speak too frankly, offend people by accident, and don't pick up on the nuances of society very well. I think if people have something to say, they should just speak up and say it in as polite a way as possible instead of beating around the bush. Life would be so much easier.
  • I am a little bit obsessed with skulls. Especially the skull and crossbones. 
  • I carry Vervain scented lotion with me at all times. If you know why, great, we're on the same wavelength. If you don't know why, then God have mercy on your soul.
  • I love maps and sometimes I just sit and study them. Any map. 
So, there's ten quickies I just came up with off the top of my head. 

Making this list has got me thinking about quirks I could give my main character to set him apart and boost his personality. But not too many quirks, otherwise it becomes annoying. Just one or maybe two. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Today is: October is National Sarcasm Awareness month.

I'm not sure if they mean we should increase our sarcasm awareness to avoid it, or to improve our usage of it. But either way, it got me thinking about something I've heard a lot about lately. Voice.

Voice is hard do define. It's something that's either there or not. But, when it comes to YA voice, many writers think they can slap on a healthy coat of sarcasm and voila: teen voice.

Not so.

Although many teens do mix up their vocabulary with a heavy dose of sarcasm, it doesn't always work great on the page. Constant, acerbic, snarky sarcasm actually distances a reader from the character. Few readers want to spend that much time with such a character.

If you use sarcasm as your key point of voice, it had better be for a good reason.

Voice is what gives the reader insight into your character, it should represent the POV character's outlook on the world. Is he/she hiding behind sarcasm? Why? Is it a wall to keep the world out? Is it keeping the reader out as well? Is the story itself compelling enough to read past the sarcasm?

In my family, we were raised on sarcasm, so it's really hard for me not to overdo it my writing. And sometimes sarcasm is done very well and works beautifully in YA novels. But so often it does not.

Sarcasm in teens usually is a front, a show, and doesn't truthfully represent the person inside. But it's the person inside that readers want to get close to. So when all seems hopeless and life--either physically or emotionally--hangs in the balance, the use of sarcasm can utterly ruin the intensity of the moment.

Stay tuned for my next few posts in which I will try to help define YA voice and how to use it.