Writing and Reading: a discussion.


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“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.


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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?

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?

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?

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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Authors should take caution to reviewing? Say what?


19 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: Uncategorized •

I really don’t do enough discussion-based posts on here, so I’m hereby trying to change that. There’s a lot going on in the world of reading and writing and YA literature that gets me fired up to talk for hours. So here we go. (Only not for hours – don’t wanna bore any of you!)

Recently, as in, six days ago, a post regarding a touchy subject was made by Urban Fantasy author Stacia Kane. That said post then sparked further debate, causing Kane to produce this post.
*Nothing here is directed personally at Stacia Kane. I’m merely responding to what she’s said.

Now that you’ve got the background material, let’s move on.

The touchy subject is that of the struggles of being an author and posting negative reviews – the benefits, consequences, etc.

You think, Sure, there are pros and cons. I don’t want to diss a fellow writer’s hard work and have them lash out at me. Yet, I want to be honest.

But what if your negative reviews prevented you from signing with a particular agent? Would you give up reviewing forever? Would you try to find a different agent?

In her initial post, Kane says she heard from two agents in a chat that they wouldn’t want to sign on a writer that has dissed their work in the past.

What I don’t understand is why that affects anything. There are always going to be people that dislike your work. That’s how it goes. So why should you not give them their moment when you’ve had yours – just because they didn’t give something you’ve written a stellar review? Isn’t that mixing personal matters with business matters?

Writing is a very personal act – what you write maybe has a little part of you attached to it, or maybe a part of a friend, or a loved one. It’s your feelings on paper. So of course rejection is going to hurt, to a degree. Especially something as publicly rejecting as a negative review. But every reviewer is entitled to their own opinions. So why should they be rejected just because they may not have enjoyed one of your (“your” being any author) works?

Kane says there’s a difference between being a reviewer and a writer. You can’t (or shouldn’t?) be both. When you become a writer, as in, a published author, things change:

 The fact is, when you decide to become a writer you give up some of your personal freedoms. When you sell your first book you give up even more. There’s no getting around that, and there’s no changing it. You can no longer say exactly what you think exactly the way you think it at all times. You can no longer assume that only the people you’re familiar with are reading your blog or your tweets. You no longer have the luxury of an opinion, honestly, on a lot of things.

Admittedly, this perturbed me the most. What kind of sick irony is this – to strip an author of their freedom of speech? I understand there’s a level of professionalism that should be maintained – no one wants to be trashy, classless or ignorant. But I believe authors should be allowed to write negative reviews – they’re people, too. They don’t like everything. So why shouldn’t they say so (in a tasteful manner, of course)?

Kane has an answer for that in her follow-up:
**Profanity is used.

 Here’s a question. Why the fuck would you want to possibly alienate someone who could help your career? Just so you can tell the world what you think of their book? Do you really feel that strongly about being able to inform the world at large that you found Author A’s dialogue unrealistic? It’s really that important to you?

By “someone who could help your career,” she means that, as an author writing a negative review, why would you want to alienate another author that could help you in some way?

I don’t understand why writing a negative review has to be taken to such an extreme. It’s one opinion. Why does that have to mean you’re “alienating” the other author? And if that other author does perceive it to be alienation on your part and does not want to converse and/or help you in the future, so what? It’s just one author. Isn’t it better to be honest about your work and someone else’s rather than play it safe on the off chance that they might later help you?

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe I’m crazy. But if I ever become a published author, I will do what I can to not be silenced in such a way, and be stripped of freedoms.

***The reason I say all of this is because of the alarming amount of bloggers that are suddenly closing up shop, so to speak. Or going on haituses. All because of this controversy. They’re afraid reviewing will impose on their futures as writers. And I hate to see that.

What about you guys? Agree? Disagree? Inbetween?

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