Writing Advice

Pacing Your Story to Avoid Annoyed Readers

By Nicole Pierce

 

When readers, writers, reviewers, and editors talk about what makes a good story, you’ll hear a lot about the characters.

 

  • Do the main characters grow throughout the manuscript?
  • Are the secondary characters just as fleshed out as the main ones?

 

You’ll also hear about the plot.

 

  • Does it follow the rising action-climax-falling action scenario?
  • Is it engaging?

 

Something that has a huge effect on how the plot pulls the reader in is the pacing.

 

Why is Pacing Important?

Pacing is, in a nutshell, how your story is moving. What you, as the writer, want to do is manipulate how the story unfolds. There should be points where you let the reader breathe, and points where the action you’ve created sweeps the reader through the pages.

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The Art and Science of the Info-Dump

Throw The Rulebook Out the Window… Except Not Really

 

By Aimee Lucido

 

No one likes rules. Half the fun of writing is throwing the rulebook out the window. You killed off a character on page 30 who you need back on page 150? Eureka! You just invented reanimation!

 

The trouble comes when we invite others to live in our world. Readers like patterns, so if dead characters can come back to life sometimes, but not other times, and sometimes they only return as ghosts, and other times as zombies, well, that’s just confusing.

 

But it isn’t that confusing if you know that dead characters can come back to life if they are wished back on a star, but only if their body hasn’t already started decomposing. Then they come back as zombies. And ghosts only come back if they had unfinished business, and even then they can only come back on Halloween. If the reader just got that from the start, then the rest of the story could just be!

 

A lot of writers just want to get to the meat of the story, and can’t be bothered with filling their readers in. So, they start their story out with 20 pages of information. The reader is inundated with back story, rules, restrictions, technicalities, and by chapter 2, they know enough to sit through 500 pages of action/adventure/paranormal/romance. Sure, they may be a little bored for those 20 pages, but at least now the story can start!

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Teenage Romance – Use with Caution

Side Effects May Include: Unrealistic Expectations, Chronic Dissatisfaction, Stagnant Plots and Nausea

By Emily Kramer

 

I like reading young adult (YA) fiction. I enjoy reading coming-of-age stories, rooting for the underdog and finding out just how the good guys will win in the end. And I really enjoy good fantasy world-building. However, recent YA fiction (particularly fantasy) has a consistent flaw that has started to remind me of a bad heel blister – painful at first, but gradually becoming more and more unbearable as the day goes on and you forgot to bring another pair of shoes.

 

Yes, crushes and short-lived romances are an everyday, typical experience for teenagers, and YA books do try and reflect those realities. However, they certainly aren’t the only relationships that teenagers have and they absolutely aren’t the most important or long-lasting. In fact, authors should be aware that writing these one-note romantic relationships might be harming the teens they are written for.

 

New research by OnePlusOne shows that young people have unrealistic expectations about love. A survey of 1000 young people showed 69% agreed with the statement ‘If it’s ‘meant to be’ then a relationship will work out’… Where are they getting all this from?…I’m going to point my pudgy finger at happily-ever-afters. The fact young people rarely get to see fictional relationships develop past the heady wonderfulness of getting together.

So says Holly Bourne in her wonderful article Are Happily-ever-afters in YA Novels Bad for Teenagers’ Love Lives? I don’t want to throw cold water onto the youthful fires of first love (OK, maybe I do – a little), but perhaps authors should consider Elizabeth Vail’s point in her article for the Huffington Post, Lovesick and Tired: Unnecessary Romance in YA.

 

What I’m ultimately saying is that romance is not intrinsic to the Young Adult genre, nor can you blindly play Pin the Love Triangle on the YA Plot Line without affecting the entire narrative.

How many books can you think of that have been maimed by a ridiculous and distracting romantic subplot?

 

So along with Holly, Elizabeth, and many other fans of YA literature, I am officially protesting unnecessary YA romance. This trend of forcing a hormone-fueled, instant attraction, true-love story arc into every YA novel must end. And for the sake of your plotlines – enough with the love triangles. If you must introduce romantic tension, pick another shape. Please?

What’s In A Name?

Using Unconscious Bias In Writing

by Aimee Lucido

 

We’ve all heard about unconscious bias. We know about the study where if you feed identical resumes to a hiring panel, Harold will get the job more often than Heidi, Joe more than Jose, Shawn more than Lashawna.

 

These studies are always framed as revealing Bad Things about human bias. We come away from these articles promising to be more aware of our prejudices when making decisions, hiring or otherwise, because it’s unfair to Heidi, Jose, Lashawna, that they’re getting overlooked for something as stupid as their name. And this is true. We do need to be more aware of our prejudices when making hiring decisions.

 

But unconscious bias is a writer’s most powerful weapon.

 

As a writer, you put so much effort into your characters. You spend months thinking like they think, talking like they talk. You imagine them beside you as you go about your day. You think about what they would wear, eat, watch on TV after work on a Tuesday night. You slave over the paragraph in the middle of chapter two that describes what your protagonist sees when they catch a glimpse of themselves in a mirror. And yet, so many writers tack on a two-cent name to their characters in post-production, find and replace Julie with Roxy, Robert with Lennon, Michelle with Michael.

 

A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but you’re not making a rose, you’re writing a book. All you have is your words and the images people associate with them. Your protagonist drinks Mountain Dew with her Doritos because it makes us think of chemicals and kids hanging out in front of the 7-11. She murmurs instead of whispers because it makes us think of groaning instead of little girls at school. And her name is Tabitha, not Jacqueline because her parents wanted her to be smart instead of glamorous.

 

Every word you use is an opportunity to make your reader get it. A character’s name can appear hundreds of times in a book. A wasted name is hundreds of wasted opportunities. Don’t shy away from unconscious bias just because it’s unfair to Heidi that she doesn’t get hired as often as Harold. Take the power that comes with knowledge of unconscious bias and use it to make your writing more powerful.

 

I could spend the remainder of this blogpost writing tips about how to find a good name for a character, but there are plenty of other articles that do that. Here is a good one by Brian Klems entitled The 7 Rules of Picking Names for Fictional Characters.

 

So instead, I’m going to talk about giving your characters’ names as much character as the characters themselves.

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Write What You See – Stories in Color

by Emily Kramer

 

I love the simplicity of old photographs – the polished black-and-white pictures of my grandparent’s wedding day occupy prime real estate on my wall. They both seem rather debonair and impossible young and polished – it’s simple and rather nostalgic. And I like it that way. But what those classic old photographs are not is realistic. Sure, they show the shape of my grandmother’s eyes, but not their incredible blue that my sister inherited.

 

We don’t see the world in black and white – we see it in color. And shouldn’t the stories of today show the world as we see it? In color? And why don’t they?

 

In author Sarah Raughley post Switching Skin: Musings of a YA Writer of Colour, she observes the effect of a lack of diverse voices in YA literature – particularly as it affected her entrance into the market.

 

Diversity really isn’t just about publishing more books with diverse characters, though this is imperative. It’s also about allowing diverse voices — non-white, non-straight, non-able-bodied etc. — to have viable, successful careers in the industry. To have a shot at being promoted, marketed, and celebrated among their peers. And to be able to tell their stories without being shoved into marginalized niche markets.

 

So, yeah. I once thought about hiring a white stand-in.

 

To quote Raughley (again) – “what…gives?”

 

The fact that she even thought about hiring a white stand-in for publicity reasons should provoke more than a few hundred angry words on Tumblr – it ought to inspire the creation (and celebration) of diverse stories in all genres of literature – not just YA.

 

In fact, all fiction writers, but particularly fantasy authors, might want to read Kayla Ancrum’s post about what she calls “Western Neutral” in her post Western Neutral: Separating Common Culture From “Whiteness” – a concept that acknowledges that Western culture was not, in fact, created solely by white people and certainly is not only for white people. That is a myth, or rather what she calls,

 

…a fairy tale delusion that everything in Western culture is ‘white’ and everything ‘ethnic’ is somehow other.

 

What is the answer to the need for more diverse books, authors and diversity in books? See it, write it, read it – demand it. As readers, we can vote with our wallets (QSLA Shifters have an even greater agency available to them). Authors have the creative power to write the stories they want to read, and if you are lucky enough to work in the publishing industry, there is an immediate avenue for you to promote these diverse stories. After all, readers connect with the stories that speak to them and we all see the world in more than just black and white.

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