On Writing Through Everything

Photo credit: Bruce Guenter on Flickr
Not too long ago, one of my lovely Twitter followers asked me how I made myself write through college in order to complete Beyond the Red. And I immediately knew it wasn’t an answer I was going to be able to fit in a tweet or two. 

So…I’ve mentioned this before, but I didn’t actually start writing with the intention of getting published in college. I started young. Like, pre-HS young. And I had pretty serious ambitions of getting published as a teen, but that didn’t happen, which is fine, but anyway.

The point is, for me, by the time I started college, I’d already developed a habit of writing. I wrote during all of my free time, I finished homework early so that I could write, I wrote during class—I was writing or thinking about writing all the time. So when I started college, it really wasn’t all that different. 

For Beyond the Red specifically, I wrote it over a summer. If I remember correctly, I started just as my college semester ended, and drafted, revised, CPed, and revised again until I started querying in September. 

Ultimately, I wasn’t, and I’m not, doing anything different from any other writer. All it comes down to is developing a habit and sticking to it.

The thing is, no matter when you start writing, there will always be other things that could take time away from writing. Homework, job work, kids, adult responsibilities, family issues, emergencies, health problems—the distractions and responsibilities that require time are just a part of life. If your aim is to write, and write professionally, you have to learn how to write even when you’re at your busiest. This means getting up early to write, or staying up late to write, or writing on your lunch break or instead of watching Netflix. 

It also means writing when you don’t want to. And writing when you feel uninspired. And writing when you’re tired, or would rather be doing something—anything—else. 

I’m not going to pretend it’s always easy, because it’s not. There are days where writing feels like dragging yourself through mud. But ultimately, if writing is your dream and telling stories is what you love, I think you’ll find that the good days and the end result are more than worth it. 

But the only way to get there, of course, is to get your butt in a chair and write.

What do you think? How do you juggle writing with your other responsibilities?

Twitter-sized bites:
How do you juggle writing with your other responsibilities? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)  
.@Ava_Jae says if you want to write professionally, you'll need to write when you don't want to. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Writing Tip: Don’t Be Afraid of Said

Photo credit: Kris Krug on Flickr
NOTE: Today is the day! If you've been curious about Beyond the Red's cover, you need be curious no longer—the cover is NOW live on YA Books Central's blog! And I have it on good authority there miiiiight be something ARC-ish you guys can win. YAY! 

So every once in a while I come across writers online who mention trying to avoid “said” in their writing. And I’m not 100% sure how this not-so-foolproof advice started, but I suspect it has to do with avoiding repetition in writing.

As I’m sure many of you know, a common critique in any sort of writing is the accidental repetition of certain words and phrases. Usually this comes through with writer ticks—everyone has a couple crutch words or phrases that they often unconsciously insert into their work while writing, and the ticks often even change manuscript to manuscript. That’s normal and easy to fix, and yes, should be adjusted particularly when it happens often enough to draw attention to itself.

“Said,” however, is not usually a word you have to worry about overusing. To a point.

When it comes to writing dialogue, "said" is a somewhat magical word because it’s largely invisible. The only time it really becomes noticeable is if too many dialogue tags are used, for example:
“Hello,” Mary said.
“Hello,” Bob said.
“How’ve you been?” Mary said.
“I’ve been great, and yourself?” Bob said.
“We’re using too many dialogue tags,” Mary said.
“I think you’re right,” Bob said. 
You get the idea.

Now, that’s not to say that you can’t (or shouldn’t) vary up dialogue tags—to avoid situations like the above terrible example, you do want to drop dialogue tags, use action tags, and when relevant, use tags other than “said.” But generally, it’s best not to get too fancy with dialogue tags because anything that isn’t “said” (or a dropped tag altogether) draws attention to itself.

For example:
“Hello,” Mary uttered.
“Hello,” Bob pontificated.
“How’ve you been?” Mary inquired.
“I’ve been great, and yourself?” Bob articulated.
“These dialogue tags are a little distracting,” Mary communicated.
“I think you’re right,” Bob concurred. 
Again, you get the idea.

Generally, this is something I don’t really worry about while first drafting—I just use whatever dialogue or action tags come to mind. But for those of you who worry about overusing said, particularly in the first draft, I encourage you not to worry about it. While there’s absolutely always a balance to aim for, if you find yourself reaching for the thesaurus to look up another word for “said” you may want to hit the pause button.

What do you think? Do you worry about overusing “said”?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Worried about overusing “said”? Writer & assistant editor @Ava_Jae says not to be. #writetip (Click to tweet
When it comes to writing dialogue, @Ava_Jae says "said" is invisible. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How I Plot

You asked, I answered: today I'm breaking down my plotting process. 


Twitter-sized bites: 
"I look at my outline as a guideline rather than a strict rulebook." —Writer @Ava_Jae on plotting. #writetip (Click to tweet)  
Not quite sure how to start plotting your book? Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about her process. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page #13

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Somehow, we’re nearing August, which is somewhat terrifying and also how is this summer nearly over? Yeesh.

Anyway! We’ve got this month’s first page critique all set up! As these things go, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (I'm just one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Here we go!


Genre/Category: Adult Fantasy

First 250: 

“Evening memos never brought good news, and I could smell one in my mailbox. The once beloved sweet, gassy smell of barrel-printing was now the odor of tightened belts and knotted purses. I picked up the page and hissed as the edge sliced the pad of my little finger. 
I sucked my finger and read an order to discharge 30% of my Mental Recovery patients by next week, to prepare for the legions of soldiers returning home from the war. I'd have to choose as if anyone in a bed now was staying in a hospital for the cuisine and ambiance. Who was too mad to leave? Who was sane enough to go? 
I stuffed it in my coat pocket, jogging downstairs and out the front door. 
An Autumn breeze kissed my cheeks, a friend I hadn't met in years. The evening air had a streak of Winter in it, a promise of frost on the grass in the morning and nothing at all of Laneer's everlasting Summer and gunfire. Home. For a moment I believed it. I'm home. 
The heavy door of the hospital swung shut behind me. I lit a cigarette and curled my hand around it to hide the tell-tale light of the burning end, shifted to put a graystone pillar between me and the tree with the best line of sight to the front door. I grimaced at my foolishness, but the band of tension along my shoulders eased. 
Sixteen men. I had to choose them and send them home.”

What an interesting start! Overall, I think this is really well-written, and I like the tension we get right from the first sentence. The conflict is established right away, we get a hint of world building without an info dump and we feel right away for the protagonist, who seems to be a decently nice person stuck in a tough situation. The main tweaks I’m noticing are in-line adjustments (and small ones at that), so I think this is pretty good shape. :)

Let’s take a look at in-line edits:

“Evening memos never brought good news, and I could smell one in my mailbox. Not a huge deal here, because it kind of works, but I still think this could be more visual if the filter phrase was removed and the sentence was re-worded slightly. The once beloved sweet, gassy smell of barrel-printing was now the odor of tightened belts and knotted purses. Great imagery, here. Very evocative. I picked up grabbed the page and hissed as the edge sliced the pad of my little finger. 
I sucked my finger and read an —the order read to discharge 30% of my Mental Recovery (Is this capitalized for a reason?) patients by next week, to prepare for the legions of soldiers returning home from the war. I'd have to choose as if anyone in a bed now was staying in a hospital for the cuisine and ambiance. Who was too mad to leave? Be careful with the implication of craziness—having a mental illness/disorder does not equate to being crazy, and a lot of people take offense to the implication/stereotype. It's not a great thing to perpetuate. Who was sane enough to go? 
I stuffed it in my coat pocket, jogging downstairs and out the front door. 
An Autumn breeze kissed my cheeks, a friend I hadn't met in years. Is there a book-related reason the seasons are capitalized? I’m not sure. The evening air had a streak of Winter in it, a promise of frost on the grass in the morning and nothing at all of Laneer's everlasting Summer and gunfire. Home. GREAT world building here, and I absolutely love the imagery of an everlasting summer and gunfire. Gorgeous. For a moment I believed it. I'm home. 
The heavy door of the hospital swung shut behind me. I lit a cigarette and curled my hand around it to hide the tell-tale light of the burning end,. I shifted to put a graystone pillar between me and the tree with the best a direct line of sight to the front door. I grimaced at my foolishness, I’d like to see this reworded a bit. Why is it foolishness? Is her smoking outside foolish? Hiding behind the pillar foolish? What exactly is going on in her head? If we can see her chastising herself internally with some thoughts, it’d be much even more powerful than what you have here. but the band of tension along my shoulders eased. This is nice, though. I like this. 
Sixteen men. I had to choose them and send them home.What will happen to the men she sends home prematurely? I think it’d be good to get a hint of that in here somewhere, just so we truly understand the stakes.

Overall, as I said, I think this is really well done and the tweaks are minor. If you’re careful with wordiness and give us a bit more of a hint on the stakes at play here, I think you’ll be completely set with this first 250. If I saw this in the slush, I’d keep reading!

I hope this helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250, Angela!

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for the next giveaway!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks vivid imagery and setting the stakes in the 13th Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

A Basic Genre Index (Part Two)

So part one of the genre index was a success! And I promised you guys part two, so here it is. I know this doesn’t cover every genre ever (there are wayyyyyyy too many, especially if you go into subgenres and subgenres of subgenres!) but I do think these two posts cover the major ones. I hope.


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Oftentimes (though not always), these involve a body and figuring out who is behind it. Sometimes it’s many bodies. Often it features the detective (whether an actual detective or someone just taking on the role of detective) trying to solve the case. These tend to be spooky and exciting and usually end with a confrontation between the killer and the protag and sometimes blend with Thrillers. Even when it doesn’t involve a killer though, there is some kind of mysterious circumstance that the protagonist is trying to puzzle out. And the stakes are often high.

Examples: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver, The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley, All the Little Pieces by Jilliane Hoffman, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel. (Others)

Historical Fiction
Credit: Sweet Carolina Photography (Flickr)

As the title would suggest, this is fiction that takes place in the past—the real past, that is. (Otherwise you’re talking Historical Fantasy, which is related, but not quite the same.) The past can be anything from BC times to medieval times, to Tudor-era or Regency or something else. Generally, it’s a time period that’s considered historical though, and of course the story that takes place isn’t true.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, Atonement by Ian McEwan, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan, The Notorious Pagan Jones by Nina Berry, Tangled Webs by Lee Bross. (Others)

Contemporary Romance
Photo credit: Stephen Burch on Flickr

This is romance that takes place today! In our world. With no supernatural creatures or superpowers. Romance is at its heart (as opposed to non-romance Contemporary), and these are stories that could actually happen.

Examples: Trust the Focus and Make It Count by Megan Erickson, Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Days Like This by Danielle Ellison, Second Position by Katherine Locke, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Sound of Us by Ashley Poston, The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi, Last Year’s Mistake by Gina Ciocca, Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout, The Revenge Playbook by Rachael Allen, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. (Others)

For more info on writing (NA) contemporary romances, check out this post.

Photo credit: Bert Werk on Flickr

This is romance that is super steamy and explicit. The focus, here, is the sex. Without the sex, there isn’t a story (unlike most Romances where sex emphasizes the story, but the story wouldn’t fall apart without it, necessarily). If you’re looking for a sexy read that doesn’t spare any details, this is where you want to go.

Examples: Changing His Game by Megan Erickson, Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, Rush by Maya Banks, Up in Smoke by Tessa Bailey, The Best Laid Plans by Tamara Mataya, Strings by Kendall Grey, Crash into You by Roni Loren, The Siren by Tiffany Reisz, Fast, Fresh, and Hot by Eliza Madison. (Others)

Photo credit: Laura4Smith on Flickr

Like Contemporary Romance, these books in our world and could actually happen—the difference is that the romance (if there is one) isn’t necessarily the glue that holds everything together. These books cover other issues that are the point and may or may not have a romantic subplot (versus a romantic main plot). They also tend to be really voice-heavy and memorable for the writing itself.

Examples: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio, Made You Up by Francesca Zappia, Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roat, Love May Fail by Matthew Quick. (Others)

Magical Realism
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So this is probably the hardest one to define. The way I understand it, Magical Realism is similar to Contemporary in that it usually takes place in a world very much like our own, but there’s an extra something that couldn’t be real. Maybe the something is a curse, or a chance to re-do your day, or a magical substance in an otherwise normal town. Think of it as Contemporary with a twist—but the twist can’t be so huge that it becomes Paranormal or Fantasy. It’s a fine line.

Examples: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King, The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende, Landline by Rainbow Rowell, Every Day by David Levithan, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. (Others)

Twitter-sized bites:
Do you find genres confusing? @Ava_Jae breaks down more common genres in part two of her genre index. (Click to tweet)  
Mystery, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism and more—how well do you know your genres? (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway Winner #13!

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Quick off-schedule post today to announce the winner of the thirteenth fixing the first page feature giveaway! *drumroll*

The winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Angela! Expect an e-mail from me shortly.

Thank you to all you lovely entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway next month, so keep an eye out! :)

How to Write a Synopsis (Sorta)

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  1. Realize you can no longer put off writing your synopsis. 
  2. Open up a Word doc. 
  3. Write “[INSERT TITLE] Synopsis” at the top. 
  4. Center it. 
  5. Change the formatting of the post to Times New Roman, point 12 font. 
  6. Tap your fingers on your desk. 
  7. Compose a tweet about how much you hate synopsis writing. 
  8. Feel validated by the groanings of fellow writers agreeing with you. 
  9. Go back to your synopsis.
  10. Copy and paste the first two paragraphs of your back cover copy summary—just for inspiration!
  11. Rewrite a single sentence.
  12. Open up the book document and scroll through the scenes to jog your memory.
  13. Go back to your synopsis.
  14. Write a few sentences.
  15. Delete a few sentences.
  16. Compose an e-mail to your agent or CPs, debating whether or not a synopsis is really necessary.
  17. Delete the e-mail.
  18. Grovel at your desk.
  19. Go get a snack. You’ve worked hard. It’s lunch time.
  20. Back to the synopsis.
  21. Write a blog post about how to sorta write a synopsis.
  22. Pound it out, one sentence at a time, until you finally—finally!—get into the zone.
  23. Eventually get to the end.
  24. Cry tears of joy.
  25. Then weep tears of despair—because your synopsis is three pages too long.
  26. Agonize over condensing your synopsis until it fits on two to three pages.
  27. Agonize more over creating a one page version.
  28. Send it to critique partners who have read the book and pray they don’t suggest changes.
  29. They suggest changes.
  30. Make said changes, declare it COMPLETE and vow never to write another synopsis again. You know. Until the next book.

And for some real advice, check out this ridiculously amazing synopsis post from Susan Dennard that I basically go to every time I need to write a synopsis.

What tips do you have for synopsis writing?

Twitter-sized bite:
Writer @Ava_Jae shares how to write a synopsis in thirty steps. Kind of. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: CPs vs Betas

Today I'm talking a frequent point of confusion: the difference between CPs (critique partners) and beta readers. Or at least, the difference to me.



Do you use both CPs and beta readers? How do you use them differently? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae says, "you need outside feedback to get an objective view of your work." What do you think? #vlog (Click to tweet)  
Confused about the difference between CPs and betas? @Ava_Jae breaks it down in today's vlog. (Click to tweet)

A Basic Genre Index (Part One)

I frequently talk about genre and category here, and I tend to speak about them in pretty offhanded terms, with the assumption that everyone knows what I’m talking about. I imagine many of you do, but I’m also aware that it’s very likely at least some people don’t. And many could probably use clarification with some labels anyway.

So! I thought I’d create what was supposed to be a mini index of the major genres. Except the post was getting way too long, so I split it into two. Enjoy part one!

Photo credit: .Natty.Dread. on Flickr

Magic, dragons, elves, wizards, witches, portals, fairies, mages—anything goes in a fantasy novel. These books are built off fantastical worlds where the impossible is impossible and where the mythical is reality.

Examples: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, Half Bad by Sally Green, The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker, The Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore.

For more info on writing fantasy, check out this post. (Others)

Photo credit: gaelx on Flickr

Technically this is a subgenera of fantasy, but it’s so big I thought it merited it’s own category. Paranormal books are a step closer to reality than epic fantasies, but they include supernatural creatures like angels, vampires, fairies, ghosts, werewolves, shapeshifters, etc. Think the TV show Supernatural.

Examples: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, Ink by Amanda Sun, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, Shiver and The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, The Diviners by Libba Bray, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa. (Others)

For more info on writing paranormal, check out this post

Science Fiction (Sci-Fi)

Photo credit: Scott Smith (SRisonS) on Flickr

Science Fiction is similar to fantasy in that the worlds and situations aren’t real (at the time they are written, at least), but the so-called “fantastical” elements are based in science, rather than magic. The idea here is the made-up stuff could be real, scientifically-speaking. It’s just not real right now.

Examples: Across the Universe by Beth Revis, Salvage by Alexandra Duncan, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, The Martian by Andy Weir, The Cage by Megan Shepherd, The Edge of Forever by Melissa E. Hurst, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Alienated by Melissa Landers. (Others)

For more info on writing sci-fi, check out this post


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Dystopian novels are a subgenre of Sci-Fi, but as they’ve gotten pretty huge on their own, it felt important to list them separately. Dystopian novels frequently feature futuristic oppressive governments that are often overthrown at the end of the book. Expect speculative societies with extremely strict rules and characters who unwittingly find themselves at the center of a revolution (though that isn’t always the case).

Examples: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, The Choosing by Rachelle Dekker, Red Rising by Pierce Brown, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, The 100 by Kass Morgan, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Legend by Marie Lu, Matched by Ally Condie. (Others)

For more info on writing dystopias, check out this post.


Photo credit: Moyan Brenn on Flickr
These books are written to scare. Or at least creep you out a little. Monsters, murderers, paranormal situations out to get you—these characters usually go through horrifying situations that end in a lot of people dying in terrible ways.

Examples: Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, Follow You Home by Mark Edwards, Ten by Gretchen McNeil, Sweet by Emmy Laybourne, House by Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti, The Enemy by Charlie Higson, Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, Feed by Mira Grant, World War Z by Max Brooks, anything written by Stephen King, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. (Others)

Photo credit: @lattefarsan on Flickr

Thrillers are similar to horror, but here, it tends to be about a killer going after people (rather than something supernatural). Sometimes the two blend a little, but these are exciting, fast-paced novels where the threat of death is a constant.

Examples: Hushed by Kelley York, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Black Iris by Leah Raeder, Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, Thr3e and Adam by Ted Dekker, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Keuhn, The Rules by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguié. (Others)


Photo credit: Arnett Gill on Flickr
These books are funny. The point is to tell a story that makes you laugh quite a bit. These are often written by celebrities, and when they’re not they tend to also cross into other genres. So yes.

Examples: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, Yes Please by Amy Poehler, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, Denton’s Little Deathdate by Lance Rubin, Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh. (Others)

So that’s just the first part! I’ll finish part two for you guys shortly. :)

UPDATE (7/24/15): Part two is live!

Twitter-sized bite:
Do you find genres confusing? @Ava_Jae breaks down some of the most common genres in today's post. (Click to tweet

Fixing the First Page Feature Giveaway #13

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Incredibly, we are more than halfway through July, which means it's time to gear up for the next Fixing the First Page giveaway! Yay!

For those who’ve missed it in the past, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a PUBLIC (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.


  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the twelfth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Wednesday, July 22 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Discussion: How Long Do You Let Your WIPs Cool?

Photo credit: Alessandro Lorizzo on Flickr
So many a year ago, I wrote about the importance of letting your manuscripts cool between finishing the first draft and starting the first read through. And while I do still believe it’s important for many writers for the reasons I listed in that post, my process has a changed a little since getting agented.

It used to be when I finished a first draft, I’d put it away and eagerly wait a month before looking at it again. This worked well when I was working on one project at a time, at thirty or so days gave me enough distance to then look at the writing more critically than I would have had I started reading right after first drafting.

A month worked really well for ages up until last year when a couple things happened:

  1. I signed with my agent (yay!) 
  2. We sold Beyond the Red (YAY!) 
  3. I wrote two first drafts back to back (oh…kay?) 
  4. I looked at my NaNo MS from 2013 and knew I couldn’t just leave it. 
  5. I maybe sort of pitched a bunch of books to my agent and suddenly I was juggling a bunch of projects. (Yay? Yay!) 

So now I had all of these manuscripts and after working out a good order for which manuscript would get attention first, I realized all of the projects would be getting wayyyyy more than a month-long cooling off period.

First came the #NerdyWIP I’ve talked about, which had a cooling off period of…five or six months? Something like that.

Then the #YAFantasyWIP got a ton of love after sitting in the drawer for well over a year.

And now I’ll be turning to the second MS I drafted last summer, just about a year later.

Waiting this much longer, even unintentionally, has its perks. When I go back to those WIPs, I’m usually pretty darn excited because I’ve been waiting so long to get back to them, and I also remember very little about them which may not sound like a perk, but actually makes it so much easier to look at not just the writing critically, but the plot, and characters, and everything else.

So lately that’s what I’ve been doing. And while this may very well change with circumstance, it’s been an interesting schedule to work with.

So how about you? How long do you let your WIPs cool before the first read through? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
How long do you let your WIP cool between 1st drafting & 1st read through? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Finish a WIP

You asked, I answered: how do you finish a work in progress when you frequently get stuck?


Twitter-sized bites: 
"Sometimes an idea isn't meant to be. And that's okay." #writetip (Click to tweet
How do you finish a WIP when you frequently get stuck? @Ava_Jae vlogs her thoughts. (Click to tweet)

On Developing Characters

Photo credit: notfrancois on Flickr
Fun fact: after I’ve finished plotting a potential book from start to finish and I’ve prepared everything I need to to start writing, I know very little about my characters.

I mean, when it comes to my protagonist and love interest(s), I know super basics like name and physical description, but if I’ve fleshed out any personality at all it’s usually only a really vague idea, if anything.

The truth is, I don’t really get to know my characters until I’ve started first drafting—and that also goes for my protagonist. And for me, this where the fun almost-pantsing comes in—because while I know pretty much how the plot is going to lay out, I don’t really know how my characters are going to develop, at least, not in the first draft.

This is also why I don’t call a WIP a WIP until I’ve hit 10,000 words—I have, on more than one occasion, started writing a totally solid idea then put it away because the protagonist’s voice just didn’t sit with me. But that’s something I really can’t predict until I’ve started writing.

There are a few things my protagonists tend to have in common: they’re often snarky because I’m a snarkmonster IRL, they’re often internally conflicted because I love writing internal conflict, and many times they’re outcasts of some sort, because I love writing characters on the fringe of society.

But honestly? That stuff can manifest in limitless ways, and there’s still so much room for drastically different personalities, and ways of speaking and thinking and viewing the world. And I love figuring it out along the way, and I never tire of having a protagonist surprise me with a stray thought, or memory, or off-handed comment, or unexpected action that I never could have predicted from day one.

In later drafts is where I then take those personality seeds and push them further. It’s where I dig into characters and unearth the stuff the first draft hinted at—it’s where I push them harder to be raw and real.

Unlike plotting, I tend to develop my characters really instinctively. From a wisp of an idea upon character conception to a fully-developed, layered character over time.

And that’s how I develop my characters. How do you develop yours?

Twitter-sized bite:

Writer @Ava_Jae shares how she develops characters instinctively. What does character development look like for you? (Click to tweet)

Discussion: What’s Your Favorite Type of Swag?

Photo credit: darknesschildsin on Flickr
So somehow, 2015 is halfway over, which means things are starting to gear up for 2016 debuts. Which is crazy, and exciting, and yay.

One discussion point I frequently see on Twitter is what everyone’s favorite swag is, which I think is an excellent question, partially because I hadn’t thought much about it before I saw people asking and partially because…well it’ll be good to know when I start ordering swag. So. :D

Personally, I like bookmarks because they’re useful and pretty, but I also like pins, those rubber bracelet things (I still have one that says “Nerd is the New Black” for Megan Erickson’s Make It Count), and though I’ve yet to get a book poster, I would love me some book posters.

I’ve also seen people mention tote bags (cool!), and I know pens exist but I never found those all that interesting probably because I don’t often use pens (and on Twitter at least, I haven’t seen them mentioned much). I’ve also seen super creative suggestions though, like necklaces and book-specific swag like Down With the Shine’s jars (which makes sense if you look at the super-awesome cover) or Mockingjay pins for The Hunger Games.

I’ve seen super-cool t-shirts, fun postcards, nail polish, awesome temporary tattoos, cute magnets, and I’ve heard people mention bookplates.

So all in all, the swag choices are close to limitless. But for those of you who like swag, I’m curious: what’s your favorite type of swag?

Twitter-sized bite:
Do you like book swag? What's your favorite type? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Types of Tension

Photo credit: Smabs Sputzer on Flickr
So I’ve blogged about the vital importance of conflict in a story, as well as how tension can (and should) be used, but it’s been a while since I’ve blogged about either and I’d like to break it down a little more.

To reiterate quickly, a story without conflict or tension isn’t really a story—or, if it is, it’s a rather boring one, to put it nicely. Readers don’t want to read about characters with perfectly happy lives—we want to see characters deal with challenging circumstances, whether realistic or super speculative, and face them one way or another. But without the challenge? There’s no story to be had.

Similarly, tension is necessary throughout the story to keep the interest and build up throughout the plot until we hit the peak point of conflict. The great thing about tension, however, is it can manifest in so many different ways.

  • Circumstantial tension. This is tension that comes from extenuating circumstances/some kind of outside force. Whether it’s caused by poverty, an authoritarian government, being on the run, or trying not to flunk out of college, this is tension that weighs down on the protagonist caused by circumstances out of their control.

  • Tension between characters. I wrote a whole post on this one, so I won’t go into every detail, but the short version is this: characters who always get along without a problem are characters who are not being used to their fullest potential.

  • Sexual tension. Whenever there’s a love interest, you know this has to play a part. Romantic relationships in books aren’t just about being near each other and kissing and getting it on—it’s the tension between them when they notice each other, when they’re close and realize they’re attracted to each other, when they want to kiss but don’t. It’s noticing every glance and touch—and it’s internalizing the building need to be closer. Without the sexual tension, the romantic relationship falls flat because they characters won’t have real chemistry. 

While this doesn’t cover every type of tension out there, hopefully it’ll get you thinking a little more about the different possibilities available to you for ramping up the micro-conflict in your story.

Do you utilize different types of tension in your writing?

Twitter-sized bites:

Writer @Ava_Jae says, "a story without conflict or tension isn't really a story." What do you think? (Click to tweet
Do you use different types of tension in your writing? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Do You Have to Write Every Day?

There are a million and two quotes online about how writers have to write every day—but is it true?


Do you think writing every day is an essential part of being a writer? Why or why not?

Twitter-sized bites: 

"If you work yourself to exhaustion, it's going to show in your writing." (Click to tweet)  
"It is absolutely NOT a requirement to write every day to call yourself a writer." (Click to tweet
Do you have to write every day to call yourself a writer? @Ava_Jae doesn't think so. #vlog (Click to tweet)

Why I Can’t Talk About Your Novel

Photo credit: markus spiske on Flickr
NOTE: I want to add that this post isn't geared to any one person. I get messages like these a lot, and it's totally okay, and I don't mind giving general pointers. Really, I don't. But it felt important enough to talk about why I can't get too specific.

So as a writer who blogs, vlogs, and tweets about writing and writing tips, it’s not really all too surprising that I frequently get questions about how to make someone’s MS better—questions that are really specific to that person’s WIP. And while I’m not at all that bothered by it, it happens often enough that I thought a post might be a good idea.

Because the truth is I can’t talk to you about your novel.

Writing is so super-crazy-subjective and so very specific to a case-by-case basis. And yes, of course there are general tips and techniques and strategies I can and do share, but there are always exceptions, too, and the only way anyone can really figure out what the best move is for your specific manuscript is to read it with a critical eye.

Only problem is most of the time when I get e-mails from lovely readers asking about their MSs, I haven’t read their work. So it’s really difficult for me to even begin to try to talk about whether or not something is hypothetically working, and I can’t really offer to look at it either because quite frankly? I need that time for my writing stuff and my CPs and betas.

So while I’m happy to point people back to blog posts that talk about general issues mentioned, I unfortunately can’t talk about any specific cases unless I’m critiquing something like in a Fixing the First Page post. And even then I can only talk about the first 250 words, which, in the grand scheme of a 50-100,000 word novel isn’t that much.

But I do what I can here, talking about writing stuff in general terms. And I try to listen to see what people are asking questions about, what people want to see more of, what I didn’t articulate well enough.

I don’t know if it’s enough, but I do know it’s the best I can do. And I hope it’s acceptable to you guys too.

Twitter-sized bite: 
How specific can writing advice posts be? @Ava_Jae explains why the general usually works best. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera

Photo credit: Goodreads
So I’d heard a ton about this book and did that thing I don’t do very often and pre-ordered a book from an author I hadn’t read before. And while More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera wasn’t quite what I was expecting, I definitely didn’t regret it. 

Before I go on, here’s the Goodreads summary:
“The Leteo Institute's revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto — miracle cure-alls don't tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can't forget how he's grown up poor or how his friends aren't always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it's not enough.  
Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn't mind Aaron's obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn't mind talking about Aaron's past. But Aaron's newfound happiness isn't welcome on his block. Since he can't stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is. 
Adam Silvera's extraordinary debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.”
It’s kind of hard to write about this one without spoiling anything, but I do have several thoughts:

Firstly, the intersectionality in this book was so great to see. I loved reading a protagonist who is Latino but not necessarily Spanish-fluent (which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but as a Latina but not exactly Spanish-fluent person myself, it was very nice to see we exist), and I realized while reading this is one of the few YA books I’ve seen with characters from a lower socioeconomic background.

Secondly, this book broke my heart so many times. Emotions go all over the place with this one, with big highs and really sad lows, and I absolutely loved the twist. Aaron and many of the other characters are complicated, layered characters who felt completely real, and they were a treat to read.

I will say that the pacing in the first third of the book or so was a little slower than my liking, and for a while I wasn’t really sure where the plot was going (and when I did think I knew where the plot was going, I was so wrong which was great). But as things began coming together, the whole story wove together really nicely and I definitely enjoyed it.

More Happy Than Not will bring on the feels and really make you connect with the characters. This book was a delight to read and I definitely recommend it to those looking for something different, gritty, and honest.

I’m giving 4/5 stars to this wonderful YA and I can’t wait to read Silvera’s next book!

Diversity note: The protagonist is Latino, gay, and like many of the characters, from a lower socioeconomic background. Other major characters were also PoC, including the main love interest, and the protagonist also suffers from depression.

What have you been reading lately? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4/5 stars to MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by @AdamSilvera. Have you read this intersectional YA? (Click to tweet
Looking for an emotional, twisty, honest YA read? Check out MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera. (Click to tweet)

Top 10 Favorite Reads of 2015 (So Far)

So I follow a lot of bloggers on Twitter (surprise! not) and I learned very quickly that yesterday was Top Ten Tuesday, a meme created by The Broke and Bookish. Yesterday's theme was top ten reads of the year, and that looked like a ton of fun, so I thought I'd join in a day late.

As it so happens, I've rated exactly ten books 4.5 or 5 stars, so choosing my top reads of the year so far was pretty easy. Yay!

So without further ado, here are the top ten books I've read in 2015 (which may or may not have actually been released this year) so far in no particular order:

Photo credit: Goodreads
  1. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson—This book actually jumped onto my favorites list, because wow, it was just so emotional, and beautifully written, and it really, truly made me feel so many things while I was reading. Also, bonus points for showcasing some diversity (one POV character is gay). (Full review)

  2. Photo credit: Goodreads
  3. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin—I know I'm way late to the party with this one, but I finally got around to reading it and whoa. It was so eerie and twisty, and totally left me wondering what the hell I just read in the best way possible. (Full review)

  4. Photo credit: Goodreads
  5. OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu—So this one was recommended to me by Dahlia Adler, and I'm so, so glad a very smart person picked it off my Christmas book list and gifted it to me. This is the first book I've read with explicit OCD representation, and I thought it was really respectfully done. So much so that I wrote a post about why books like this are so important to me.

  6. Photo credit: Goodreads
  7. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia—Kind of similar to Mara Dyer, but not nearly as creepy, Made You Up really makes you stop and think about what's real and what's not. This is the first book I've read featuring a protagonist with paranoid schizophrenia, and not only does it have a brilliantly unreliable narrator, but the whole book was completely fascinating and a really, really unique read. (Full review)

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  9. Unteachable by Leah Raeder—So this was my first glimpse at Leah Raeder's work, and now I'm 100% a fan because her work is everything I love about the sexier side of New Adult. Unteachable is swoony, very steamy and really explores the depths of a forbidden student/teacher relationship, punctuated with Raeder's really gorgeous prose.

  10. Photo credit: Goodreads
  11. Black Iris by Leah Raeder—Another (really friggin' amazing) Leah Raeder book! Unlike Unteachable, Black Iris is a NA Thriller, and it is super, super dark (as well as sexy because, c'mon, this is a Raeder book). Once again I was really impressed by Raeder's prose, but more than that I loved seeing how she combined this super dark plot with incredibly layered, twisted characters and a hell of a lot of diversity. (Full review)

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  13. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli—This book was so cute. SO. CUTE. Unlike many on this list, Simon vs. is a really happy, adorable book with a super cutesy m/m romance and actually had me giggling and saying "aww" out loud while reading. (Full review)

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  15. Half Wild by Sally Green—So Half Bad jumped onto my favorites list when I read it, which meant I had super high expectations for Half Wild, and boy, those expectations were 150% met. Half Wild is super dark and exciting and the series has my favorite depiction of witches since Harry Potter and as a bonus? The MC is bi and there is angst and stuff between boys. My heart. (Full review

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  17. Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson—So this is one of my favorite NA romances, and I keep recommending it because it gave me all the warm fuzzies and a full spectrum of emotion while reading. Justin and Landry's journey together was a memorable one that I still think about, and the next book in the series, Focus on Me, comes out this month and I seriously can't wait. (Full review)

  18. Photo credit: Goodreads
  19. Last Will and Testament by Dahlia Adler—This was another really great NA read; very swoony and sexy, and I loved the awkward flirting, and the student/TA relationship was A+. Furthermore, Last Will and Testament presented a situation rarely seen in NA—a college student who loses her parents in an accident and becomes the guardian of her two younger brothers.
What are some of your favorite reads of 2015 so far?

Twitter-sized bite: 
.@Ava_Jae shares her top 10 reads of 2015 so far. What books are on your list? (Click to tweet)
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