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Writing and Reading: a discussion.

Apr
11

5 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: Uncategorized

“Good” versus “Bad,” Making and Breaking Stories, and Workshops

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – what makes and breaks a story, for me.  Between blogging, engaging in literature-based discussions in my classes, and going through the Hell known as the writers’ workshop, well, it’s easy for me to begin thinking and then talking about these kinds of things.

Just earlier tonight I had a discussion with a friend about the misconception writers and readers may have about “good” and “bad” stories and “good” and “bad” writing. Both my friend and I feel that there are clear distinctions between the two. For instance, just because I don’t like the Hunger Games, it doesn’t mean I think it’s a “bad” book, or “bad” writing. I don’t like the Hunger Games because I have issues with the characters, dialogue and some plot points. Meaning, I have issue with how the story is conveyed to me, not its literal make-up.

In a workshop setting, I think this sometimes becomes misconstrued, or a little too black-and-white. In my workshop experiences, if the other writers did not like a particular piece, they dubbed it “bad” writing, or equated it to not being able to write well. But I don’t think this is always the case. To be a writer, you must also be a storyteller. And I think sometimes the roles of storyteller and writer become blurred together, though I feel that they’re separate. I think you can have a great story to tell, but, at the same time, be unable to convey it well. Likewise, I think you can construct a very eloquent piece of work, but have it lacking in its actual content, or story. Because of this, I don’t think you can simply label a book “good” or “bad.” There are too many factors – most of them based upon opinion.

When it comes down to it, what makes and breaks a story for me are the characters. If there’s any disconnect between me and the characters in a story (presumably a majority of them, depending on how many are involved), I begin to lack the will to continue reading. I want the character to be a person to me – as real as they can be, whether they’re admirable or despicable. If they simply seem like a cookie cutter (without that being their intention), or uninteresting (again, without that being their intention), then I don’t see the point in me learning about them.

Going along with that, I also place importance on dialogue. The characters may appear to be as real as real can get, but if a disbelieving or ridiculous or lacking or cliched line of dialogue is tied to them, I start to become wary. They can’t just seem real; I need them to sound real as well. What they’re saying has to matter to me, on some level. If it doesn’t, then I know I’m not very emotionally invested, and possibly even interested, in the story.

Characters are what hold my attention – they’re what I cling to when I read. This unfortunately means they can both make or break it for me.

What about you? What makes or breaks a story for you? How do you view “good” versus “bad” writing? What have your workshop experiences been like?

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Drawing the line between MG & YA.

Mar
17

5 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: Uncategorized •

Remember when I was fortunate enough to attend the AWP Conference in DC? Well, while I was there I attended a very interesting panel discussing the differences between MG and YA fiction.  The panelists tried to break it down very simply because the lines tend to blur between the two. Best example? Harry Potter. Technically Rowling’s series is categorized under MG literature, despite its dark and mature themes, and teenage characters.  So why? Where do people draw the line?

ROMANCE.
The big numero uno.

Romance seems to be key for reeling in new readers. If you can develop a believable or swoon worthy relationship between one, two, even three characters, people go crazy and crave more. Granted, this is so long as the romance isn’t haphazardly slapped into the story. (We don’t like that!)

But can there be romance in MG literature? Technically, yes. But to what degree? In Harry Potter, there’s nothing more than hugging and kissing. Not only is sex off limits, but it seems that making out is, too. And even a kiss can make some people wary of the MG/YA distinction.

Is it just one kiss? What kind of kiss? A peck? A first kiss?

There are variables that alter the meaning of the kiss, and they can plunge the story into either category. Of course, others think that romance should stay far away from MG literature altogether.

But what about in YA literature? These days romance is almost always the focus – but to what degree? Speak, Twenty Boy Summer, The Duff, etc. introduce mature, sexual relations. Others merely skim the surface of romance, never going beyond the memorable make-out sessions or hinting at the fact that sex occurred at some point in time. So what’s the difference? The meaning behind the actions or the details of the actions?

AGE.
Numero dos.

For some people – myself included – the age of the characters matters. I relate best to people in my age group, or at least in the general range.  I’m not in high school, but I can still enjoy reading YA literature set in the 9th-12th grades. But middle school? Kids below the age of sixteen, fifteen, fourteen? Not so much. There’s a distance there.

But what set of ages can be labeled purely MG or YA? Again, with Harry Potter, the journey begins at eleven years old. You think, Yeah, definitely MG because no eleven-year-old is considered a young adult. But then you follow those characters for seven years, up until they’re roughly eighteen years of age.

If you set out to write a MG novel, should your character then not start out as a teenager? But how young should they be? What about for a YA novel? Is there a cut-off? What’s considered too young or too old?

SETTING.
Numero tres.

Middle school or high school? Pretty self-explanatory. Where do the characters go to school? Of which do they belong? It seems the difference is that there is less likely to be rebellious or mature themes in a middle school setting. The drinking, partying and drugs are kept for the YA/high school crowd. The MG readers get bullies, dying pets and sibling rivalry instead.
In this way, the setting influences what happens within the story, which can then define it as MG or YA.
But what about college? Is it an acceptable setting for a YA novel? Most stories are set right on the cuff – the in between period of Senior year at high school and Freshman year at college.  Is setting the story in college pushing the boundary? College kids are teenagers too, you know.
Romance, Age, and Setting are the big three, confusing factors.
Can you think of any others?
What do you think about any of the three, and do you have problems distinguishing your own writing as MG or YA?

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How do you do it?

Feb
21

4 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: Uncategorized •

Have you ever been in that awful writing slump where you just can’t find the words for, well, anything? Whether it’s a simple description of a swirled lollipop or a mere “Hello!” exchanged between your characters? Or even just a name – that one character you just can’t place, and without their identity, your story can’t progress?

Or, hey, even something less complicated – like writing a blog post?

But then there’s hope! You’re working part-time, going to school, going to the gym, hanging out with friends, making sure to catch the latest GLEE episode, and suddenly it hits you: the words you’ve been looking for! But how are you going to get them down without forgetting? And why did they have to show up now, when you’re incredibly busy and can’t give them the attention they deserve?

Oh, but surely you can do it! Look at J.K. Rowling, who wrote bits of Harry Potter on napkins. If she can do it, so can you! But you don’t have any napkins. So you’ll have to improvise. You don’t have a pen, either. You’ve got your bag and your white chocolate mocha latte, and you’re on the move.

And then another thing hits you: your phone! Of course, you can use your phone to store your inspiration! You text furiously, going going going, while everyone around you asks if you’re writing a novel to someone. Why yes, you are. In fact, that is exactly what you’re doing. You are writing a novel and sending it to yourself. You hit send and suddenly you’re relieved. You didn’t lose it. You found the words and you didn’t lose them.

However, the next time you sit down to write, you either forget about having texted such brilliant work to yourself, or it’s no longer useful to you and you’ve moved on. It’s a major catch-22.

To make a long story short, this is what typically happens to me. Sometimes I wish I didn’t prefer typing over handwriting, so I’d be more motivated to carry a notebook around with me to store ideas. But no, I use my phone. I have racked up around thirty six texts to myself, including various ideas for names, plots, and even small snippets of poetry – all of which I never incorporate in whatever story I may be working on at the time.

But what about you? How do you get the words out? Do you use your phone? Or do you carry that nifty little notebook (but then how do you carry that delicious latte?)?

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