Vlog: First to Final Draft: BEYOND THE RED

You asked, I answered: today I compare the first draft of BEYOND THE RED's first page versus the final published draft.


What kinds of revisions do you tend to have to focus on with your drafts?

Twitter-sized bite: 
What changes between 1st & final drafts of published books? @Ava_Jae vlogs BEYOND THE RED's 1st vs. final opening. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #23

Photo credit: Tim Evanson on Flickr
Somehow, we are nearly halfway through 2016 (which, ???) so it's time for the twenty-third fixing the first page feature!

As per usual, 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 (because I'm one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Before I start, I'm going to put up a quick trigger warning for some potential fat-shaming here. 

Okay. Here we go.


Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

First 250 words:

"The weight of the world, of school, of family and above all else, his body weight, threatened to collapse all around on him. It pressured and gripped to him like a vice, appearing unresolvable until this very moment. 
William Scott, at only fifteen, stood in front of the full-length mirror in his bedroom and couldn't help but smile. His lifelong problem with his weight had finally been over. He looked at the thin, bare-chested boy staring back at him. If it wasn't for the dark blue eyes and spiky black hair, he would barely recognize himself. The months he spent working out seemed to zip by as if he had been in a trance, unaware of the exercise or the results it produced. He'd certainly put in the work, training everyday even on the weekends yet he couldn't fathom how he'd gotten so thin, in such a short period. Most of his life had been spent as a more round and chubby figure, making him less confident and insecure when it came to the basics like sports, friendships, or girls. He wanted so badly to fit in, not in the sense of popularity but just to believe that he, did in fact belong somewhere. Most of his friends were thin and the teasing from them specifically, is what ashamed him. When he had brought home straight A's, he was sure his father would be more proud of a son, who brought home a sports trophy and had a girlfriend by now. That feeling of being alone and stuck inside a cave would only intensify as the years drew on, when his father would shout and cheer more for his favorite soccer team scoring a goal, than anything Will ever did."

Okay then! So. I'm noticing quite a few things off the bat that need some attention. This opening has a couple common errors I've mentioned in previous Fixing the First Page critiques. Firstly, this is all exposition, which I definitely recommend against for openings. Exposition slows down pacing a ton, which you really don't want in an opening when you're trying to draw readers in.

Secondly, I'm 99% sure this isn't starting in the right place—which is also a common error because openings are hard. When deciding where to start a book, I like to think about what the inciting incident is, then take a step (or half a step) back. Get us close enough to the incident that we know something is wrong (or about to be wrong) and the tension of that impending wrongness is there on the page, which will pull readers in.

I'm going to note a few other things in the in-line notes, but last thing I want to say here is to be very careful with fat-shaming. A lot of people have spoken out within the YA community about how they're (rightfully) tired of books that perpetrate the their life become so much better after they lost weight! message that's so common, and I'm seeing a lot of that here. That's not to say that people who are fat don't get teased (obviously they do), or none of them struggle with confidence issues (definitely a thing), or that none of them ever want to lose weight (obviously not true), but you definitely want to be careful with what messages you're sending with your writing, especially when it's for teens. (And related to that, I hope "The Cured" in your title isn't referring to formerly fat people...because that would have a lot of negative implications. I'm hoping it's something else, but given how quickly your protagonist lost weight, it makes me wonder.)

Okay! So while I would rewrite this and start later in your story (as I mentioned above), here are in-line notes too:

"The weight of the world, of school, of family and above all else, his body weight, threatened to collapse all around on him. It pressured and gripped to him like a vice, appearing unresolvable until this very moment. Okay, so two things to start with here: firstly, be careful with voice. This is YA, and even though it's third person, your narrator should still sound like your protagonist—in this case, 15-year-old Will. Think about the kind of words Will would use, and the ways you could imbue Will's personality into the narrative voice. 
Secondly, I found this a little confusing to start with, because we don't know who he is until the next paragraph, and it's not coming from Will, per say—more like someone is talking about Will. Have you ever been dropped into a conversation where people are talking about someone, but you don't know who it is? I got that same disorienting feeling to start with.
William Scott, at only fifteen, stood in front of the full-length mirror in his bedroom and couldn't help but smile. Describing your character describing themselves while looking into a mirror tends to be a mistake new writers make (which is okay! Pretty sure I made this mistake plenty, too). The reason this is considered a mistake is because it reads rather contrived, and it's pretty unnatural—I mean, in real life, people don't look into the mirror and sit there describing themselves, you know? It also completely stops the narrative to focus on description, which slows the pacing down. I recommend instead dropping a few telling details here and there throughout the narrative (it doesn't have to be all at once!). But remember, you don't need to tell readers every single descriptive detail—readers will fill in the blanks. His lifelong problem with his weight had finally been over. There's a lot of it in this paragraph, but this is an example of what I'm talking about with fat-shaming. For an excellent article on Fatphobia in YA, check out "Kill the Fatphobia: Fat Girls in YA" by the awesome Sarah Hollowell. Not saying you can't write about a teen who lost weight because of confidence issues, but I do want to make sure you're aware and very careful with this topic. :) He looked at the thin, bare-chested boy staring back at him. If it wasn't for the dark blue eyes and spiky black hair, he would barely recognize himself. The months he spent working out seemed to zip by as if he had been in a trance, unaware of the exercise or the results it produced. He'd certainly put in the work, training everyday even on the weekends yet he couldn't fathom how he'd gotten so thin, in such a short period. So this and most of what follows is a lot of background information. I've mentioned this in critiques before, but I'd like to reiterate to be careful with how much background information you put in openings (I tend to advise to only include what is essential to understand the opening), and especially be careful with how much you introduce at once. I think this is too much information to have in an opening, because you've paused the action in order to give us this information, before readers can really sink into the story. Instead, I recommend sprinkling this information throughout your story—through dialogue, Will's thoughts and actions, etc. For help with this, here is a blog post on avoiding info dumps, and a vlog on info dumps 
(If you're going to keep all of this info, I would put a new paragraph here, because eleven sentences is pretty long for a single paragraph.) Most of his life had been spent as a more round and chubby figure, making him less confident and insecure when it came to the basics like sports, friendships, or girls. He wanted so badly to fit in, not in the sense of popularity but just to believe that he, did in fact belong somewhere. Most of his friends were thin and the teasing from them specifically, is what ashamed him. This is a little awkwardly worded. You may want to try condensing and rearranging the sentence to something like: "Teasing from his thin friends had made him feel terrible for so long." When he had brought home straight A's, he was sure his father would be more proud of a son, who brought home a sports trophy and had a girlfriend by now. That feeling of being alone and stuck inside a cave would only intensify as the years drew on, when his father would shout and cheer more for his favorite soccer team scoring a goal, than anything Will ever did."

Okay, so overall I think this still needs some work, and I suspect moving closer to the inciting incident, wherever that is, would make for a stronger hook. But if I saw this in the slush as is, I would pass.

I know there's a lot of info here, so I hope it helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Enricoh!

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

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks character intros, considering teen readers & more in the 23rd Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #23!

Photo credit: Kim Bost
Quick Saturday post to announce the winner of the twenty-third fixing the first page feature giveaway, because I was sick this week and forgot to post it earlier!


And the twenty-third winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Enricoh!

Thank you to all you awesome entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in June, so keep an eye open! :)

Discussion: Reading Outside Your Comfort Zone

Photo credit: TheGiantVermin on Flickr
I read YA a lot—like, way more than I ever did when I was a teen. And given that I'm a YA author, it's literally in my job description, so it makes sense and it's something I need to do so I can keep challenging myself and staying away of what's out there in the market.

But while genre-wise I read pretty widely within YA, sometimes I need to remind myself to push outside of my comfort zone and pick up some books in other categories, because another part of being a writer is taking in new voices and listening listening listening.

So this year I've been picking up a couple books here and there outside of YA, from MG (like The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society), to NA (like Strong Signal, and Out of Frame), to Adult (like A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows), to graphic novels (like the first hardcover volume of Saga).

It's been fun to read totally new things and expose myself to new voices, and it's something I'd like to keep doing. I've got some Middle Grade like The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, Paper Wishesd, The Last Boy at St. Edith's, Bounders, and Marco Impossible on my TBR, but I'd especially love some graphic novel recs (where do you even go to after Saga), and good book recs in general. Because why not?

So what are you guys reading? Anything outside your usual reading habits? And what should I add to my TBR?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Want to try reading outside your comfort zone? Check out the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

How to Manipulate Scrivener Labels

So last week I participated in #YAGetsStuffDone on Twitter, which was a tag that lasted a week and encouraged goal-setting and cheering each other on to get their goals done. One of my goals was to finish plotting a project I'd barely started brainstorming, which I did both in Word and Scrivener simultaneously, writing the synopsis in Word and transferring it over to Scrivener on scene cards to get everything ready for drafting.

When I finished on Saturday, I posted my results, which looked like this:

A lot of people appreciated the color coding, as I did (it's so pretty to look at!), and some asked how to change the colors around in Scrivener, so I figured I'd write a quick post about it.

You can do color coding for a whole host of things—for two projects I drafted with chronically ill characters, I used the colors to signify different pain levels, for example—but I most often use it when I'm drafting a dual or multi-POV novel.

When writing a multi-POV novel, each color signifies a different POV. I like to do it this way because it helps me visually see the spread of different POVs, so no one character gets too much (or little) screen time. This is especially helpful in the brainstorming stage because it forces me to think about whose POV each scene will take place in and why.

Luckily, manipulating the labels in Scrivener so I can do this quickly is really easy.

  1. Right click an index card —> Label —> Edit...

  2. Open Meta-Data Settings. Here you can change the name of your labels, add more labels, remove some labels, change the colors by double-clicking the color box, etc. As I said, I do one label per POV character, but however you set it up is up to you. Once you're done, click "OK."

  3. View —> Use Label Color In —> Pick your settings. I like to check off Binder, Index Cards, and Outliner Rows, so the index cards change colors and so do the labels in the row of scenes. If you want the little index card icon to change colors too, then you can also check off "Icons" but I don't usually bother with that.

And that's it! From there, whenever you want to change the label (or color) of the index card, you just Right click —> Label —> [Pick your label]. The colors will change automatically as you go label to label. 

It's that easy and the results are not only visually pleasing, but helpful for organizational purposes. I definitely recommend it if you like to add a little splash of helpful color to your outlines. 

Note: Like many Scrivener features, I'm not sure if all of this is available in the Windows version. It might be! But it might not. I have the Mac version so I'm not sure.

Have you ever used the label feature in Scrivener?

Twitter-sized bite:
Want to color-code your outline in Scrivener? @Ava_Jae breaks down an easy way to do so. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Make a Fantasy Map

So I've covered world building and fantasy languages, and now I'm adding one more world building tool: fantasy maps! Here's your step-by-step guide to my map creation process.


Have you ever made a map for a WIP?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Think a map may be helpful for your WIP but don't know where to start? @Ava_Jae vlogs her step-by-step process. (Click to tweet)

We Are Our Own Worst Critics

Photo credit: CraigMoulding on Flickr
Over the weekend I stumbled over my awesome agent sib Katie Locke's newest post, "Juggling, Attention, Ambition, and Goal-Setting." I frequently enjoy Katie's posts because like me, she works best with organization, and she has some really great methods that have helped me in the past.

So anyway, in the post she mentioned putting all her potential project ideas into a spreadsheet to help her organize and also strategize with her agent. This was the second time I'd heard her mention this spreadsheet, which reminded me of my own Evernote note I called my Project Pipeline, but it sounded more organized than the bullet list I had, so I tried it out and made my own spreadsheet.

Now, you guys might remember me mentioning I'm not the kind of writer overflowing with ideas. I often struggle to get any ideas at all, and then kill most of them off when brainstorming/plotting, and then kill about half of those survivors within the first 10,000 words of first drafting, and then often kill half of those after I draft them because...I'm just not feeling it anymore.

So the ideas that do rise to the surface and actually make it to the editing stage have gone through a lot of hurdles already. This is why I often don't feel comfortable talking much about the projects I'm working on while I'm brainstorming and drafting—I know all too well the likelihood of that project making it to the revision stage is...not the best. So telling other people about those ideas before I know for sure whether or not they'll ever get drafted makes me nervous, because once I've told them, I don't want to let them down by deciding not to pursue it.

All of this played into why when I was between projects not too long ago, I was having major self-doubt issues. I hadn't drafted something new in over a year, I was dealing with that what if I never publish anything again ever fear (not uncommon amongst published writers, regardless of how many books they've published), and I was uncertain about the few ideas I did have—they were only partially brainstormed and I felt them slipping through my fingers.

Add this to my first ever impending book release, plus college graduation looming closer and closer, and you can understand why my confidence was pretty shaky, to say the least.

So anyway, point is I had this sense that I didn't have all that many ideas. That I was running out of options and needed to come up with something new ASAP. So I first drafted a thing, and that helped, and then I stumbled over an idea I'd written and partially brainstormed during class then forgotten about, and that helped too. And then I saw Katie's post and made a spreadsheet and realized...

Well. Apparently I have nine projects to play around with. One is already written and ready to go. Some are fully plotted and need to be written. Some were written ages ago and need an overhaul. One I finished plotting over the weekend.

But as much as my brain sometimes makes me believe otherwise, looking at the spreadsheet I realized they were all viable options. Some needed more work than others, sure, and some were absolutely not viable options until I did some major revision surgery (or rewrote entirely), but they were possibilities. Real, actual possibilities.

Nine of them.

It was kind of amazing to see how different it felt to move these projects from an unnumbered list to a spreadsheet. To realize that even if I tossed a bunch of them, I still had plenty more to play around with.

It was also a really great reminder that we are our own worst critics. For so long I was so worried about not having something new to work on, but all I needed to do was sit down and refocus. All I needed to do was give myself some credit for the work I'd already done.

A little organization can go a long way in terms of both productivity and boosting your confidence. Sometimes all we need is to tell our brains to be quiet for a moment while we reflect on what we have simmering on the back burner.

How do you keep track of your ideas or potential projects? 

Twitter-sized bites:
How can spreadsheets boost your confidence? @Ava_Jae explains how @bibliogato's method helped her. (Click to tweet)
On productivity, confidence, and giving yourself credit for the work you've already done. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #23

Photo credit: Rodger_Evans on Flickr
We're halfway through May! Which means it's time for the next Fixing the First Page feature—yay!!

For those who’ve missed before, 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 twenty-second public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Wednesday, May 25 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

How to Get Productive

Photo credit: J Dueck on Flickr
So if there's one thing I've learned about setting myself up to have a productive day, is it doesn't just happen on it's own. Productivity is something you have to dedicate yourself to, but sometimes it can be a little hard to focus or hold on to your motivation.

Given that it's important for writers to learn how to make the most of their time, I thought I'd share some productivity tips to help you reach your goals, whatever they may be.

  • Figure out your zone. One of the best things I did for my productivity was figure out when I work best—which for me is early in the morning. I changed my schedule around and became a morning person so I'd have more early morning hours to get things done, but maybe you'll find your best hours are late at night, or at two in the morning (which isn't uncommon!). The key is to experiment a little and listen to yourself to see generally when you work best.

  • Establish accountability. As distracting as social media frequently is, it can also be really useful in terms of establishing accountability. This week on Twitter, for example, there's #YAGetsStuffDone in which YA writers of Twitter are announcing their goals for the week and cheering each other on. More consistently, there's myWriteClub, a (free) site with customizable graphs so you can keep track of your goals with various projects and cheer with others as you progress. Even just tweeting a goal you want to get done on Twitter can often bring a little extra motivation, both because you've made your goal public, and because sometimes people will jump in to cheer you on, which is awesome.

  • Cut out distractions. How you do this is up to you. I usually just close my internet browser and leave it at that (unless I'm using myWriteClub, which I'll explain in the next step), but some people use Self Control to block their access to internet for a given period of time. There's also Forest, which is a mobile app for $1.99 that keeps you from using your phone when you're supposed to be working, which I'm very much considering getting because while I'm good at not opening Twitter on my browser when I'm supposed to be working, I'm not quite as disciplined with my phone. (Forest also has a Chrome version, which I didn't know until just now.) Alternatively, turning my phone face-down on my desk sometimes helps.

  • When drafting, try writing sprints. If you've never participated in a writing sprint before, it's basically an established chunk of time (sometimes thirty minutes, sometimes an hour), where you try to write as many words as possible. Sometimes if you participate with other people, it can become a competition of sorts, which can be pretty motivating and fun. myWriteClub recently set up a writing sprint section on their site which allows for global sprints that I've really come to love and I wrote about here.

So that about covers my productivity tips. What would you add to the list?

Twitter-sized bites:
Need to boost your daily productivity? @Ava_Jae shares her top productivity tips. #writetip (Click to tweet)
Accountability, reducing distractions, & more make @Ava_Jae's list of productivity-boosters. What would you add? (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Creating Fantasy Languages

Considering whether or not to create a fantasy language for your book? Not sure where you'd even start? Here are some tips for incorporating a made-up language into your WIP.


Have you ever created a fantasy language for a WIP? What book has your favorite treatment of made-up language(s)?

Twitter-sized bite:
Want to create a language for a WIP but not sure where to start? @Ava_Jae vlogs abt her language-creation process. (Click to tweet)

5th Blogoversary Giveaway Winners!

Photo credit: lisbeth.k on Flickr
Firstly! The giveaway was a huge success—thank you so much to all of you who entered! My favorite part of the giveaway, AKA the time to make lots of people happy is now here. Behold the winners!

  • Query critique from Rebecca Donnelly: Aimee Lim
  • Query critique from Tara Sim: Mary Mount Dunbar
  • First ten pages critique from Mia Siegert: Isabel
  • First chapter critique from Rena Olsen: Briana Morgan
  • Query + first ten pages critique from Amy Trueblood: TJ Ohler
  • Query + first chapter critique from Emma Adams: Bridgette Johnson
  • Query + first chapter critique from Kaye Callard: Kira Budge
  • Query + first chapter critique from Lauren James: Enricoh Alfonzo Naidu
  • Query + first chapter (up to 10 pages) + 3-page synopsis critique from Lydia Sharp: Andrea D'Eon
  • Submission Package: query + synopsis + first chapter critique from Phil Stamper: Layne
  • Submission Package Lite: query + synopsis + first chapter critique from me: Katherine Bogle
  • Query + first three chapters critique from Shelly Zevlever: Mary Kate
  • Query + first 50 pages critique from Sarah Glenn Marsh: A.G. Young
  • First 100 pages critique from Nicole Frail: Quiana Howard
  • Full MS critique (up to 80,000 words) from Alex Yuschik: Sam Taylor
  • Full MS critique OR LGBT/Mental Health sensitivity read from Julia Ember: Roxanne Lambie
  • Full MS critique from L.S. Mooney: Ann Smith
  • Full MS critique from Kisa Whipkey: Amelia Luke

And the winner of ALL of the books below...

  • Sword and Verse by Kathy Macmillan
  • Signed The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society by Janet Sumner Johnson
  • Signed Emerge by Tobie Easton
  • Signed The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw (releases in August) 
  • Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason Black
  • Signed Assassin's Heart by Sarah Ahiers
  • ARC of The Girl Before by Rena Olsen
  • Signed Beyond the Red by Ava Jae
  • Love, Lucas by Chantele Sedgwick
  • Life Before by Michele Bacon
  • The Wanderers by Kate Ormand
  • Divah by Susannah Appelbaum
  • The Fix by Natasha Sinel
  • Life Unaware by Cole Gibsen
  • Love Me Never by Sara Wolf
  • Cinderella's Shoes by Shonna Slayton

is also Roxanne Lambie!

Thanks again to all who entered and massive congratulations to all of the winners! To those who see their names here, you should be receiving an e-mail very shortly (if it’s not already in your inboxes!). Keep an eye out today! 

Finally, if you entered to win a critique but didn't win, I will say I have some openings available for big and small critiques alike, and the grand opening 10% discount is running until May 31st—so feel free to take a look at your options

That’s it! See you all tomorrow with a new vlog. :)

Discussion: When the Muse Spontaneously Answers

Photo credit: Luke-of-Kondor on Flickr
So while I don't typically subscribe to the writing when you feel like it thing, or only writing when I'm inspired, or anything along those lines, very occasionally I do get spontaneous inspiration. Sometimes it's a line, or a partially developed character, or an image, scene, or potential idea. Or sometimes, like was the case on Tuesday, I'll try to drum up inspiration for one thing and get it for another.

It doesn't happen often or anywhere near reliably. But sometimes giving my brain some focused space to explore leads to some cool results.
In this case I hadn't made any progress on the plotting itself, but I did get some opening paragraphs in third person past tense, which was a surprise because I haven't written third person or past tense for any length in actual years, but given I'm tackling more POVs than I have before with this project, and given the already large cast of characters I have even in these early stages, it makes a lot of sense in hindsight (thanks, brain!).

Of course, I still have to plot the project. And write up to 10,000 words to see if I'm actually going to make the idea a manuscript. But it's still a really cool thing when the muse spontaneously delivers.

But now I'd like to hear from you guys: what gems have your brains spontaneously given you?

Twitter-sized bites:
What spontaneous writing ideas has your brain given you? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

How to Write Deep POV

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So I've been doing lots of critiquing for clients lately, which means I've been thinking a lot about point of view and how to delve into point of view effectively. I find that this is really essential for a lot of reasons, most importantly because oftentimes when readers find they can't connect to a character, it's because this is missing—the connection to the character on a level that feels real.

Without a connection, readers put a book down—and shallow point of view can often be a big factor into why.

So how do you write deep point of view? How do you establish that connection? While a foolproof, guaranteed system doesn't exist (because, of course, all readers are different), there are five things that play into a point of view that feels real.

  1. Through their eyes. So I wrote a whole post about writing description through character a while back, so I won't reiterate that part in too much detail, but the thing to remember is when you're writing in either first person or limited third, everything should be filtered through the POV character's eyes. Description isn't neutral; it's an extension of the POV character's mind. What seems to be to your character, in their POV, is until later proven not to be. 

  2. Thoughts. When writing in close POV, readers should be privy to all of your POV character's thoughts. What they think about other people, their attitudes toward any given situation, how they interpret events around them, etc. Remember to think about what your character is thinking about at any given moment, so we understand what the world and events mean to them.

  3. Emotions. Similarly, whenever something happens to your character, you want to think about how it makes them feel. Missing emotion is a pretty common reason why readers don't connect to characters; after all, it's really hard to empathize with someone who is emotionally shutting you out. This is something I've struggled with in my own writing—in early drafts of Beyond the Red, for example, Kora was so set on being strong that she shut me, the writer, out and made it really hard for me to figure out what she was feeling as the events took place. It took a lot of focused revision and prodding on my part to really delve into her character and get her to show me, and the readers, that she wasn't as cold as she sometimes to seemed to be.

    Related to this, however, is making sure that you show your POV character's emotions rather than telling the readers about them. Saying "I was angry" isn't nearly as effective as showing that anger, from the ways it physically affects your character to how it tints their thoughts, dialogue, and actions. I wrote a post about writing emotion effectively a while back focused on this exactly, and I very highly recommend The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, which makes showing emotion exponentially easier.

  4. Physical sensations. From the five senses, to pain, to how emotions physically affect your POV characters, physical sensations are essential to making the readers feel as though they're experiencing what your POV character does. By immersing readers in sensory images as your POV character experiences the world, you'll pull them deeper into your book.

  5. (No) filtering. And last, but not least, removing filter phrases is a great way to strengthen writing and deepen perspective. Filter phrases like "I saw," "she realized," "he felt," "they smelled," etc. all distance readers from the perspective because it adds a layer of writer-speak that subtly reminds the readers they're reading a book. I explain in detail about this in the linked post, so I won't say much more, but limiting the amount of filter phrases you use can be a great way to further deepen POV.

So those are five ways to help forge a connection between your POV character and your readers. It can be a lot of work, and totally something you can save for revisions, by the way, but it's work that I find ultimately pays off every time.

Have you tried any of these methods to deepen character POV in your writing?

Twitter-sized bites:
Struggling to get readers to connect to your characters? @Ava_Jae shares 5 POV-deepening tips. (Click to tweet
How do you get readers to connect to your characters? @Ava_Jae shares 5 tips. #writetip (Click to tweet

Vlog: Self vs. Traditional Publishing

What's the difference between self and traditional publishing? Is one choice better than the other? I answer these questions and more in today's vlog.


How to Survive the Edit Letter

Photo credit: James F Clay on Flickr
So we all know working with critique partners is a very good thing you should be doing if you're a writer, and we know that even after you get an agent, the revisions don't stop until the book is on the shelf. Which means between the first draft and the final printed copy, writers have to do a lot of revisions. And generally, when those revisions are based off someone else's notes...there comes the edit letter.

A lot of edit letters.

I recently got a question on tumblr about handling edit letters, and it occurred to me that while I've mentioned tips here and there for handling critiques, it doesn't look like I'd really dedicated a post to it. So now I am.

The long and short of this is even when you like revising (like me)—even when revising is your favorite part (like me)—edit letters can be pretty hard to swallow. Whether it's a bulleted e-mail or a fifteen-page Word document (both of which I've received), reading an edit letter can feel a bit like getting punched in the stomach repeatedly. And at the end you're supposed to smile and say, "thank you."

So how do you handle an edit letter? These are the steps I take:

  1. Before you read the letter, remember this will (probably) make your book better. I try to approach each letter as open-minded as possible. I trust whoever I'm getting the edit letter from, and I trust that their suggestions will help me make this book even better than I imagined. I also remind myself at this stage that whatever the letter says, it's not personal, and they're sharing the suggestions they have to help me improve the book.

  2. Read the letter once. I like to read it through the first time quickly. This is the gut-punch stage where little flaw hurts like hell, which is why I try to race through it so I reach the end quickly and know the worst of it.

  3. Read the letter again. This time I'll read it through more carefully. Now that I know what to expect, it's a little easier focus on the nitty-gritty. I pay special attention to any suggestions and start thinking about what I can do to fix the problems.

  4. Put the letter away. Unless the edit letter is all super easy fixes I'm ready to tackle immediately, I'll usually step away. Most of the time I won't look at the letter again for the rest of the day—I need some time to process the suggestions so that the next day I can...

  5. Get a battle plan together. First I'll open up the edit letter again. If it's in an e-mail, I'll now copy and paste it over to an Evernote note—if it's in a Word document, I'll probably work off of it from the document. If I have multiple letters, I'll put everything in the same Evernote document, and from there I'll start to organize the notes by type: plot/pacing, voice/writing, characters, world building, miscellaneous. I use a process I wrote about in this post to organize everything into different editing passes, and then...

  6. Start revising. In the case of heavy revisions I recommend trying a strategy like this one, but whether your revisions will be super intensive or relatively easy, now's the time to get to work. I've come to really love the revising process because it's a really cool thing to watch your manuscript get better and better, but even if you don't, just remember that this process will all be worth it. The hard work definitely pays off—just stick to it, be kind to yourself, and keep your head down and eyes on your own paper until you're done.

How do you handle edit letters from critique partners or publishing professionals?

Twitter-sized bite:
Struggling to handle critique? @Ava_Jae shares 6 steps to approaching the edit letter. (Click to tweet)

Year FIVE Blogoversary Celebration!

Today is May 6, 2016, and exactly five years ago I put up my very first blog post on Writability, which is kind of incredible. I never imagined the blog would reach so many people—and I certainly didn't imagine it'd last five years, and yet here we are and it's all thanks to you guys. Whether this is the very first post you're reading here at Writability, or the 918th post, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Every year I like to do a celebration with a bunch of giveaways for you lovely readers, and this year is no different! But because this is the first year I actually have a book to give away, I thought it'd be extra fun to give away both critiques and books. This year we have nineteen critiques and sixteen books up for grabs, so whether you're a writer or reader (or both!) there's plenty for you to win!

The way this is going to work: critiques will each go to one different person (so that's nineteen winners!) whereas the books will all go to the one person in one big batch of books (twenty giveaway winners total). The book giveaway is US-only, but critique giveaways are international. 

Here are the super generous editors and authors who donated awesome prizes for you guys:

Rebecca Donnelly—Query critique

Rebecca Donnelly is the author of the upcoming middle grade novel HOW TO STAGE A CATASTROPHE (Capstone, 2017). She is a former reviewer for School Library Journal and has written for the Horn Book. These days she writes and runs a small library in rural upstate New York. Agent: Molly Ker Hawn of the Bent Agency.

Tara Sim—Query critique

Tara Sim is the author of Timekeeper (Sky Pony Press, Nov. 1, 2016) and can typically be found wandering the wilds of the Bay Area, California. When she's not chasing cats or lurking in bookstores, she writes books about magic, clocks, and explosives. Follow her on Twitter at @EachStarAWorld.

Emma Adams—Query + first chapter critique

Emma is an author of edgy urban fantasy with magic and monsters, including the Changeling Chronicles and the Alliance series. When she’s not immersed in her own fictional worlds, she works as a freelance editor and proofreader, offering services to authors at all stages of the publishing journey. Emma has a BA in English Literature with Creative Writing, and has interned and edited for Curiosity Quills Press and Entangled Publishing. In 2015, she was an editor/mentor for Pitch to Publication.

Kaye Callard—Query + first chapter critique

K. Callard lives in Ottawa, Canada with her husband, three kids, and a life-sized stuffed polar bear. When not writing or taking care of her family, she designs and decorates cakes, reads, and tries not to embarrass herself (or others) with her geekiness. She is represented by Brianne Johnson of Writer’s House.

Lauren James—Query + first chapter critique

Lauren James sold the rights to her first novel The Next Together, a Young Adult science fiction romance, when she was 21. It was published in September by Walker Books in the UK and Australia. Rights have sold in over six territories worldwide, including the USA. It was described by The Bookseller as ‘funny, romantic and compulsively readable’. She is an Arts Council grant recipient, and is longlisted for the 2016 Branford Boase Award. She is now 23, and lives in the West Midlands. You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James or her website http://www.laurenejames.co.uk.

Jami Nord—Query + first chapter critique

Jami Nord is a freelance editor with Chimera Editing who adores fantasy, scifi, and romance, in any combination, with a soft spot for bi, trans, and disabled characters who get to take the leading role in their own stories. When she's not editing or working at her dayjob, she's reading, cooking, or trying to coax her garden into some semblance of order. #Pitchwars Mentor, #pitchmadness reader/adviser.

Mia Siegert—First ten pages critique

Mia Siegert is the author of Jerkbait, a YA revolving around twins, hockey, gay teen suicide, and online predators. She works as a freelance editor and professor, and her clients and students have gone on to publication.

Amy Trueblood—Submission Package: query + first ten pages critique

A devotee of reading and writing from a very young age, Amy Trueblood grew up surrounded by books. After stints working in entertainment and advertising, she began writing her first manuscript and has never looked back. Her published work has appeared in The Fall and Summer's Edge short story collections as well as Pen & Muses' first Dark Carnival collection. Currently she is a freelance editor with Wild Things Editing. Her work is represented by Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. To learn more about Amy, check out her blog, Chasing The Crazies, or follow her on Twitter or Tumblr.

Phil Stamper—Submission Package: query + synopsis + first chapter critique

Phil Stamper is a YA writer and freelance editor who lives in Brooklyn, NY. He works in publishing development for a large publishing house you've probably heard of. You can find him on Twitter, where he exclusively talks about food, Brooklyn, and sometimes books.

Shelly Zevlever—Query letter + first three chapters critique

Shelly of Read.Sleep.Critique is offering a critique of a query & the first three chapters of a manuscript. She has interned for a literary agency, blogs, reads and writes. More of her book-obsessed thoughts can be found on Twitter at @shellysrambles.

Sarah Glenn Marsh—Query + First 50 pages critique

Sarah Glenn Marsh, author of the forthcoming young adult fantasies Fear the Drowning Deep (Sky Pony) and the Reign of the Fallen duology (Razorbill/Penguin), as well as several picture books, lives in Virginia with her husband and four rescued greyhounds. When she's not writing, she's often painting, or engaged in pursuits of the nerd variety from video games to tabletop adventures. Visit her online at www.sarahglennmarsh.com.

Alex Yuschik—Full MS critique (up to 80,000 words)

Alex Yuschik is a writer and freelance editor at K&A Editorial specializing in YA and genre fantasy. Alex's poetry appears in Illumen Magazine, Stone Highway Review, and burntdistrict.

Julia Ember—Full MS critique OR LGBT/Mental Health sensitivity read

Originally from the Windy City, Julia Ember now resides in Sunny Scotland where she learned to enjoy both haggis and black pudding. She spends her days working for a large book distributor, and her nights writing YA Romantic Fantasy novels. A world traveller since childhood, Julia has now visited over 60 countries. Her travels inspire the fictional worlds she writes about and she populates those worlds with magic and monsters. Her first novel, Unicorn Tracks, was released by Harmony Ink Press in April 2016.

L.S. Mooney—Full MS Critique

L.S. Mooney is a binge reader, ballet dancer, and crazy cat lover. In her copious spare time, she writes contemporary YA about quirky girls, the friends who love them, and the boys they don’t really need. Her debut Thoroughly Modern Mirella released from Bookish Group Press on 4/12. You can find her on Twitter: @LSMooney and on her blog: lsmooney.blogspot.com

Kisa Whipkey—Full MS critique

Kisa Whipkey is a dark fantasy author, a martial arts demo team expert, and a complete sucker for Cadbury Mini-eggs. She's also the Acquisitions & Editorial Director for YA/NA publisher, REUTS Publications. Currently, she lives in the soggy Pacific Northwest with her husband and plethora of electronics.

Lydia Sharp—Query + first chapter (up to 10 pages) + 3-page synopsis critique + Print copy of Life Unaware, Cinderella's Shoes, and Love Me Never

Lydia Sharp is an editor for Entangled Publishing, and her debut young adult novel, WHENEVER I’M WITH YOU, releases from Scholastic in 2017. When not completely immersed in a book, Lydia binges on Netflix, pines for Fall, and hosts mad tea parties in Wonderland. Follow on Twitter @lydia_sharp.

Nicole Frail—First 100 pages critique + print copies of Love, Lucas, Life Before, The Wanderers, Divah, and The Fix

Nicole Frail is an editor of both fiction and nonfiction at Skyhorse Publishing in New York City. She acquires mainly cooking and lifestyle/hobby and occasionally adult and YA fiction. Main interests include reading, writing, sleeping, and eating! Find out more at nicolefrail.com and add her on Twitter at @nfrail17. P.S.: Nicole is my editor at Sky Pony for Beyond the Red. :)

Ava Jae—Submission Package Lite: query + synopsis + first chapter critique + signed copy of Beyond the Red

Ava Jae is a YA writer, a freelance Editor, an Assistant Editor at Entangled Publishing, and is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. Her YA Sci-Fi debut, BEYOND THE RED, released March 2016 from Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing about kissing, superpowers, explosions, and aliens, you can find her with her nose buried in a book, nerding out over the latest X-Men news, or hanging out on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, Goodreads, Instagram, or YouTube channel.

Rena Olsen—First chapter critique + ARC of The Girl Before

Rena Olsen is a writer, therapist, teacher, and eternal optimist. By day she tries to save the world as a marriage and family therapist and at night she creates new worlds in her writing. Her debut novel, THE GIRL BEFORE, will be available from Putnam 8/9/2016. 

Sarah Ahiers—Signed copy of Assassin's Heart

Sarah Ahiers is the author of ASSASSIN'S HEART (HarperTeen), has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University and lives in Minnesota with three dogs and a house full of critters. She has a collection of steampunk hats and when she’s not writing she fills her time with good games, good food, good friends and good family.

Jennifer Mason Black—Copy of Devil and the Bluebird

Jennifer is a lifelong fan of most anything with words. She’s checked for portals in every closet she’s ever encountered, and has never sat beneath the stars without watching for UFOs. Her stories have appeared in The Sun, Strange Horizons, and Daily Science Fiction, among others. DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD is her first novel.

Kathleen Burkinshaw—Signed copy of The Last Cherry Blossom (releases in August) 

Kathleen Burkinshaw resides in Charlotte, NC. She’s a wife, mom to a daughter in college (dreading the reality of being an empty nester-most of the time), and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja. Writing gives her an outlet for her daily struggle with chronic pain. Writing historical fiction also satisfies her obsessive love of researching anything and everything.

Tobie Easton—Signed copy of Emerge

Tobie Easton was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, where she’s grown from a little girl who dreamed about magic to a twenty-something who writes about it. Her YA contemporary fantasy novel Emerge (Book 1 in the Mer Chronicles) offers a secret peek into a world where Mermaids aren’t just real but live among us.

Janet Sumner Johnson—Signed copy of The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society

Janet Sumner Johnson is a writer, French translator, mom, and cookie aficionado who has moved from Virginia, to Missouri, to Oregon in the last four years. The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society is her debut novel. You can follow her as @MsVerbose on Twitter or find her at www.janetsumnerjohnson.com.

Kathy MacMillan—Copy of Sword & Verse

Kathy MacMillan is a writer, American Sign Language interpreter, librarian, and avowed Hufflepuff. Her debut young adult novel, Sword and Verse, explores questions of power and prejudice in an epic fantasy setting, and has been called “fascinating and unique” by National Book Award finalist Franny Billingsley. Find her online at www.kathymacmillan.com or on Twitter at @kathys_quill.

So many critiques and books! This time around there will be two rafflecopters—one for the critiques, and one for the books. You are free to enter both, or either one—whatever you prefer. The giveaway will run until Friday, May 13th at 11:59 PM EST. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

On Combining Two Ways to Plot

Photo credit: erstwhile ungulate on Flickr
Over the weekend, I finished first drafting my fourteenth manuscript. It was short—like, under 50,000 words short—and I'm legitimately not sure I'll ever take it out of the drawer ever (right now I have a 50% trunk-without-editing rate), but it accomplished what I most needed: a distraction and reminder that yes, I'm still capable of first drafting something totally new thank you very much.

I'm not going to lie, though—plotting this WIP was really hard. So hard that I actually took a break halfway through and put it away for several months before I opened it up and looked at it again.

The thing is, as completely necessary as pre-plotting is for me before I write even a single word of the WIP, it's not exactly the easiest of processes. With this most recent WIP I sort of forgot about one of the two plotting processes I've played around with that maybe would've made the experience a little easier, but for my next project I think I'm going to combine my two methods.

The methods I'm talking about are:

  • Scrivener cork board. So I've described this method before in my On How I Plot a WIP and How to Use Scrivener's Cork Board posts, so I won't go into super detail here, but it basically involves writing brief summaries of every scene in your planned book, each on a separate flashcard that gets "pinned" to the cork board. Some scenes are more fleshed out than others, but I write just enough for me to understand the gist of what has to happen in each scene. This is the only method I did for the last WIP I plotted, and yes, it worked, as it has worked in the past, but I found it more difficult than the previous two projects I'd plotted, which involved a combination of this method and...

  • Pre-draft synopsis. So I know on paper this sounds like voluntary torture, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find that writing the synopsis before I've written the book is a million times easier and more enjoyable than writing it after. Go figure. (I've written about this discovery in this post.) But basically this is exactly what it sounds like—opening up a document and writing however many pages you need to go step by step through what will happen in your book. 

In the past, when I've combined the two it usually involved having both Scrivener and Word open at the same time. (I don't know why my brain insists on writing a synopsis in Word when Scrivener is perfectly capable of handling both the outline and synopsis, but whatever, brains are weird.) I'd write the synopsis part first, expanding more and more as I go along, and gradually transfer over what I had to the flashcards, which I would later need for first drafting. Both times I did this I managed to finish fully plotting the projects in a week or less. 

Would have been nice if I'd remembered that while plotting the last project, but I digress... 

Sometimes playing around with new strategies or combining ones you have can be extra effective, which is why I'm sharing it with you guys. After all, you never know what methods will work best for you if you don't try new strategies here and there. 

Have you tried either of these methods for plotting? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Looking for a new way to plot? @Ava_Jae shares a combination method you might want to try. (Click to tweet)
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