2012 Reflection and Looking Ahead

2012 Challenges


Goodreads Challenge
Goal 75 Books
Did Not Complete



2012 Debut Author Challenge
Goal 12 Books
Did Not Complete

Instead of recapping my failures (depressing) and making excuses (lame), I’m going to reflect on the things I did accomplish this year:

1) I wrote more blog posts in 2012 than I did in 2011 (despite taking a 3 month hiatus), and made lots of new friends along the way 🙂

2) I took 12 credits in graduate courses and now have 36 out of 48 credits towards my Masters degree. I have just one class and my thesis to go!

3) I wrote tens of thousands of words for my novel as well as researching topics that were completely unfamiliar to me like the history of metalworking and properties of metal. I will undoubtedly finish my first draft this winter and that makes me happy!

Goals for 2013

Goodreads Challenge: I’m going to set my goal lower than 2012 but higher than 2011. Hopefully, that middle ground will be the right number. My goal will be 60 books.

Debut Author Challenge: I really want to do a better job on this challenge. It turns out that I purchased a bunch of debut novels, but it was the reading them that got me in trouble. I’m going to have to schedule one book per month and set deadlines for myself. I work well that way, with a little more structure. So I’m going to set a goal of one book a month or 12 books total.

Reading Goals: I want to diversify my reading selections. I tend to read more fantasy and sci-fi, but would like to also read more historical fiction (which I enjoy), mysteries (which I loved as a kid), and contemporary (which is growing on me). I also want to pay more attention to publishers and diversify my reading in that way. I also will be reading as many steampunk books as possible, so if you see a good steampunk book, send it my way!

Writing Goals: I will be finishing my first draft of my steampunk novel this winter, which will be my thesis for my Masters. I will be revising over the Spring and Summer, and be done by August 2013. Hopefully, I can start the query process Fall of 2013. My next writing project (since this novel is a steampunk standalone) will likely be the dystopian trilogy that I put on hold. I had a major revelation while studying dystopians over the summer, and figured out how to break away from the typical dystopian format. I have a major twist that I’m really excited to explore, which should distract me from the nerves of querying.

Blogging Goals: I want to maintain an every-other-day posting schedule, with two-thirds of my posts being book posts and one-third being writing posts. I’d love to look into co-hosting an event or doing some giveaways, but that really depends on big changes in my real life and how they’ll impact me (jobs, moving, money, etc.)

2013 could have a lot of changes in store for me, especially as I’m completing my Masters and pursuing job/career changes. I hope these big changes won’t get in the way of my goals, but regardless, I’m optimistic that 2013 is going to be a fun year 🙂

Behind the Story: Pacing & Description Part 2

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!
This week’s topic:
Pacing and Description

Last week I discussed how I learned to pay attention to pacing and why I believe pacing is so important.  For last week’s post, click here.  This week I’ll get into tips and tricks writers can use to take control of their pacing.
Brushstrokes, You Don’t Have to Paint the Picture All at Once
Guess what?  Most of us are writing a whole entire book.  Some of us, that will be 80,000 words.  You don’t need to give your reader every single detail up front.  We are often tempted to, because as the author, we feel like everything in our story is important.  But that’s not the case.  We can reveal things over time.  Do we need to know that the main character has red frizzy hair, freckles, green eyes, small bones, knobby knees, tiny ears, pale skin, a birthmark on her elbow… all in the first chapter?  No.  We don’t.  You can paint her with brushstrokes a little bit at a time.  We have the whole book to get to know her.  Think of it as dating… We don’t need to know everything up front.  A first date where all is revealed doesn’t leave us with anything to wonder about, and that intrigue, that mystery is lost.  You’ll want to start with a basic picture, the essential details, but then let it grow, brushstroke by brushstroke, as the story continues.  Which brings us to Tip #1:
Pacing Tip #1: The Rule of Three
I honestly don’t remember where I heard this tip.  I looked on the internet for some hint as to who I learned it from, but all I could get was that it is general belief.  
Wikipedia states:

“The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The reader or audience of this form of text is also more likely to consume information if it is written in groups of threes.  Similarly, adjectives are often grouped in threes to emphasize an idea.  The Latin phrase, “omne trium perfectum” (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete) conveys the same idea as the rule of three.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_three_(writing)

The way I’ve understood and employed the “rule of three” in terms of pacing and description: I don’t include more than three details about a person or place in my first description.  I think when I originally heard the “rule of three” I was told that a reader isn’t going to remember more than three details about a character.  Think of Harry Potter.  Three major physical details: Messy black hair, green eyes with glasses, lightning bolt scar.  Those are the three defining physical details everyone remembers.
Now, I’ll show you examples of the “Rule of Three” in action:
From my own WIP, a setting:

The first thing my aunt did upon returning from the funeral was take away my bedroom and force me into the small attic room above the boiler room.  The space could barely fit a bed, and there were crevices between the floorboards wide enough to stick your finger through.  The highlight of the room was a single grimy window.  

I only describe three things in Anne’s new bedroom: the small size, the floor, and the window.  All of which convey the sheer depressing nature of the room.  That’s all you need to know.  I definitely could have described more, but three things was enough.
From my WIP, a character:

“Oy!  Girlie!  You new?”  Pushing one of the screeching metal carts was a girl smaller than me.  Her brown hair was unbelievably short, cropped to her chin, but she wore a long gray skirt, so I knew she was a girl.

Again, I only describe three things: the girl’s small size, her short hair, and her skirt.  It’s enough for you to identify this girl in the future (the small girl with the cropped hair), you’ll remember it, and there’s plenty of space for her to grow as a character.
Here’s some examples from novels you might know:

“Has anyone seen a toad? Neville’s lost one,” she said.  She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 105

J.K. Rowling describes three things about Hermione (voice, hair, and teeth) when we first meet her (though we later learn a great deal more).

The girl was gorgeous, the kind of girl Clary would have liked to draw–tall and ribbon-slim, with a long spill of black hair.  Even at this distance Clary could see the red pendant around her throat.  It pulsed under the lights of the dance floor like a separate, disembodied heart.
City of Bones, page 6

Cassandra Clare gives us three details about the girl: her body type, her hair, and her necklace.

Her name was Shay. She had long dark hair in pigtails, and her eyes were too wide apart. Her lips were full enough, but she was even skinnier than a new pretty. She’d come over to New Pretty Town on her own expedition, and had been hiding here by the river for an hour.
Uglies, page 27

This example does not stick to the rule of three, but I think Westerfeld still limited himself in terms of description.  A reason why I think he used four descriptors here is because he uses pairs effectively.  Shay is described in pairs of traits: one that is adequate (almost pretty) and one that is ugly.  This is important to the premise of his book, where the characters desire physical perfection more than anything else.  So the pairs were necessary for him, and he limited himself to two pairs and not more than that.  Six traits would have been too much at once, but four traits or two pairs was enough.
When is it okay to use longer description?
I think there are cases that warrant more description than the “Rule of Three” I present here.  I think particularly important characters often warrant more description.  For example, Dumbledore is described in much more than three traits in his first description on page 8 of Sorcerer’s Stone.  He was an incredibly important character across the entire series.  I’ve heard the rule that the length of a description should match the importance of a character or place (longer description = more important).  I generally agree with this rule, but often an author can be a little blind and think every detail is a little more important than it actually is.
I also think unusual settings warrant more description, and readers will be more patient with lengthier description of a strange setting because the strangeness intrigues them.  Readers aren’t bothered by descriptive paragraphs of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory because a secret candy factory is an intriguing and fabulous setting to read about.  I also think a setting that acts as a character, like Hogwarts, warrants a lengthier description.  Hogwarts isn’t just a place.  It has undiscovered secrets, presents challenges to the characters, and aids the characters in times of trouble.  Hogwarts, in order to become the living place that it is, required that kind of description.  A place that is ordinary, like a classroom or a schoolbus or a grocery store, probably shouldn’t be described in great detail, and I’d recommend the rule of three.  I’ve found the rule of three helps keep me in check and keeps the pace quick.  I can always go back and add more description if I need to.
Writing Exercise #1
Choose three characters and identify the three dominating physical traits of each character.  Then write a brief paragraph for each of them that introduces each character and their three physical traits.
And also, do three settings in your novel.  Choose three settings and identify three defining traits of that setting and write a brief paragraph introducing that setting and the three traits.
Stay tuned next week for my second quick pacing writing tip and another writing exercise!

Behind the Story: Pacing & Description Part 1

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!
This week’s topic:
Pacing and Description

One thing I am acutely aware of is pacing.  It is one of the first things I notice in any book that I read.  This wasn’t always how I read, and I pinpoint the moment I began to read this way on the day I began teaching middle school.
Whether we like it or not, technology has had an impact on the attention spans of our child readers.  Some children have shorter attention spans than others, but I do believe that technology has affected the majority of children in this way.  From thirty second TV commercials to the brevity of tweets to the under eight minute Youtube video, our society feeds on things that are quick.  Children are experiencing the world at a different pace than human beings of the past.  
This phenomena, this shorter attention span, has turned teaching into a unique challenge.  I discovered rather quickly that I had to be just as much an entertainer as an educator in order to hold my students’ attention.  I couldn’t rely on them to do a single activity for a full hour.  My class period had to be broken up into short chunks of different activities.  And when I had to decide on what reading material to use in my class, I had to pay attention to the text’s pacing.  I was teaching in a Title I school filled with hormonal, thirteen year-olds and for the sake of my classroom management, I could not afford for these kids to get bored.
So how does this connect to writing?  I believe we writers have to understand how to grab a kid’s attention, how to pace a book, and how to be sneaky with our description.
Back in the days before photographs and television and internet, as well as cars and trains and airplanes, lengthy description was something that audiences needed.  They wanted to be able to see people, places, and objects that they would never see or travel to.  Description was a way to offer the reader a photograph or to transport them to exotic locales.  And while I don’t mean to say that audiences today don’t need setting, they don’t need the same lengthy descriptions as those from the dusty volumes of yore.  Our current readers want things to be happening in the book at all times.  A whole page of description, to them, means nothing is happening.  And that’s why we writers have to be sneaky with our description.  It still needs to be there in order to ground the reader in a place or to provide a reader with an image, but we need to slip description in between action and dialogue so that we don’t lose our readers because “nothing is happening.”
Some of you may be thinking, “But I love writing beautiful descriptions!” or “Kids need to learn to pay attention and slow down!”  And yes, lots of writers do enjoy writing lyrical, lovely descriptions.  And yes, maybe kids do need to slow it down.  But this is the world we live in.  And I want kids to read my books, not put them down.  
Though, I’ve seen writing at both ends of the spectrum be successful.  Maggie Stiefvater (Shiver, Scorpio Races) is what I would consider a description heavy author, but she has become extremely successful.  I also enjoy her books despite the fact that I have a low tolerance for heavy description.  (I do have to get myself in the right mood to pick up her books, but I still love them.)  On the other end of the spectrum is James Patterson, particularly his Maximum Ride series.  If you haven’t read these books, they move at a ridiculously breakneck pace.  I actually feel as if I’m being jerked around.  He achieves this with extremely short chapters (literally 2-4 pages each) and high conflict.  I actually couldn’t read more than the first book in this series because the jerky pacing was too much for me.  I’m hoping the tips that I offer will help you find a happy medium between the extremes and will help you achieve a pacing that will satisfy both you as a writer as well as our child readers.
I wouldn’t say this is a writing trait I’ve struggled with because I did not start writing seriously until I was already teaching (and acutely aware of pacing).  When I began writing, I’d already begun studying author’s pacing methods and paying attention to what made a text move quickly.  This isn’t to say that, in a rough draft, I’ve never written a paragraph that comes off as setting info dump.  I think it’s one of the common mistakes of a first draft, to do a description info dump, because we, the authors, are figuring things out ourselves as we write.  But in critiques, I’ve pretty consistently gotten feedback that my writing is paced well, and I wanted to share some of the observations I’ve made on pacing that has helped me develop this writing trait.  And in my observations, lengthy description is one of the biggest culprits in slowing a text down. (The other culprit of slow pacing is a lack of conflict, for more on that topic, see my post: Author Sadism)
What Others Have Said on the Topic of Description
In the book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies (which is a fantastic resource, even for non-dummies) they use a water metaphor, sprinkling versus splashing, when talking about description.  They say it better than I could, so here you go: 

“Stopping your story to splash setting onto the page can be hazardous in teen fiction. Splashes can stop young readers cold.  Sometimes, yes, you may need to pause your plot work for some setting details — a little descriptive moment — either because it fits the overall style of your narrative voice or because, simply, it’s time for a breather. But in general, splashing means stopping, and stopping is rarely what writers want.  Instead, sprinkle.
Work in the setting here and there, as if flicking wet fingers at your pages instead of pouring water on them straight from the spout.  Even teens who aren’t intimidated by a few lines of description are likely to skip over big splashes in search of the story thread.  Providing details about time and place as you go keeps setting accessible and interesting to teen readers.”
Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, page 146

I think they make some great points, and I love the metaphor.  When it’s raining, you avoid going out in a downpour, but you’re likely to handle a light sprinkle.  I think it’s the same with readers.  Readers might avoid or skip a whole page of just description (or even put down the book), but they may not even notice description if you are able to embed it in action or keep description light.
So how do we do this thing called light description?  Next week I’ll share three tips and exercises that should lead the way to you becoming a description expert with no pacing problems.

Going on a Hiatus

This is something that I really did not want to have to do, but I have come to the realization that it is something I need to do.  I’m putting my blog on hiatus.

I sincerely love blogging.  I love sharing what I thought of books.  I love the blogging community.  I love discussing books with other bloggers.  I love hearing about new books coming out.

But there is one thing that’s more important to me right now, and that is writing my novel.  And because I love blogging so much, it is too easy for me to get caught up in writing blog posts and posting comments instead of the other kind of writing I should be doing.

Besides being a full time teacher, I’m taking a writing course this fall that is going to involve presentations, critiques, writing exercises, and regular submissions.  Just looking at the syllabus made me question whether I’d have much free time this fall.

And then I sat down and did some goal setting.  I have set a goal for myself to have a revised and finished novel ready to query by this time next year.  In order to do that, I need to have a finished first draft by January 1st.  Which is entirely doable if I stick to a writing goal of 3,000 words a week.  I’ve consistently met this goal in the past, and know that it is something I can accomplish.  But not if I have distractions.

And because I love blogging so much, it is a distraction.

I want to maintain the friendships I’ve started with fellow bloggers, so I’m going to set aside two hours a week to comment on my favorite blogs.  (I’m so dreadfully behind right now, but thanks to Labor Day, you may hear from me tomorrow morning.)  Know that I’m still reading your blogs, often from my iPhone as I sit in a dreadfully boring school meeting, and you’re making me smile.  But I may be a more silent, mysterious follower.

Much love, and hopefully you’ll hear from a very happy me on January 1st who is holding a complete 1st draft of a novel in her hands.

(I’ll still be on goodreads because I HAVE TO keep track of what I’m reading.  I won’t be posting extensive reviews, but if you want to see what I think of books I’m reading, here’s my goodreads profile.)

Behind the Story: Author Sadism

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:
Being Evil to Your Characters


Why would you want to be evil to your own creations?

  • To provide challenges and conflict
  • To create compelling characters who grow over the course of the story through the challenges they face
  • For suspense and pacing
  • As a plotting tool

This is one of those pieces of advice or writing tips that I don’t remember where I heard it.  But it really resonated with me, and is one of the first things I do when plotting a section of a novel.  I think it is a really, really valuable technique if you struggle with pacing, plotting, or giving characters agency.

Quotes About Being Tough on Your Characters

Editor, Cheryl Klein, Arthur A. Levine Books

Ten Ways to Create Compelling Characters
#6 Put the character in pain, danger, or jeopardy (anticipated pain)

Author, Kurt Vonnegut

8 Basics of Creative Writing
#6: Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Author, Maggie Stiefvater
Blog Post: Bringing Out Your Inner Sadist

“I have decided that in order to be a good writer, you have to be a sadist.”
“And that’s when I decided that I must have an inner sadist in there somewhere. Because although I love my characters dearly, I have to say, I also love to hurt them. I love to take away the stuff they need and the people they love and shove them outside their comfort zone without so much as a windbreaker. I like to make them uncomfortable, humiliate them, gun down their loved ones in cold blood, and give them pasts that will haunt them forever.”
“I think part of it is because of that saying: ‘Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until they’re in hot water.’ Characters are like women which are like tea bags. You can learn a bit about them when things are going well, but it’s not until the proverbial poo hits the proverbial fan and plagues are raining down that you really see what sort of a person they are.”
“So I guess I figure that if a little pain and suffering will show me more about them, a lot of pain and suffering will do it even better. Basically, as soon as a character lets on what their worst fear is, it’s a pretty surefire sign that I am going to make them come face to face with it at some point in the novel. “
“I don’t think readers like it when you are nice to the characters. They think they want characters to be happy, but they don’t really. At least not until the characters have first been really miserable. I think a good writer finds their characters’ monsters and then resurrects them at the worst possible moment, and that we readers, like Jerry Springer audience members, love the angst and drama of it.”

Author, Janet Fitch

10 Rules for Writers
#10 Torture your protagonist.
 The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.

The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Ari Susu-Mago at blog “A Fuzzy Mango With Wings”
Blog Post: The Sadism of Fiction
(or, What Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Writing)

“He makes likable, interesting, flawed, human characters. And then he makes their lives suck.”
“Moreover, note that not only does he make problems for them right at the beginning of the story, but he makes things get worse all the time. Rarely, if ever, do things get better. Plans go awry. People turn traitor. People get angry and say things they shouldn’t. People get killed. In general, more problems crop up. The result? A 800+ page book that flies by.”

Examples of Author Sadism:

Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by JK Rowling
How bad did JK Rowling make Harry’s aunt and uncle?
Rowling made them about as terrible as aunts/uncles can get.
How did the Dursleys keep Harry from his Hogwarts’ letter?
Rowling didn’t just hold Harry back from reading the letter, she took it to extreme levels by the Dursleys trying to hide on a rock in the middle of the sea.  By throwing so many obstacles in Harry’s path to reading the letter, it made us more invested in the story and increases suspense and tension.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Everytime Ender became comfortable, Card threw him into a new challenge or worse situation.
Example:
Ender makes friends in his launch group and starts to be successful at the Battle School.
But then he is moved to Salamander Army where he is the smallest and most inexperienced, and Bonzo won’t even let him practice.

Downton Abbey
They make the audience care…
Then very briefly give them a glimpse of what they want…
Then they ruin or take it away…
(Examples: Anna/Bates or Matthew/Mary)

The Way I Incorporate this Technique in My Own Writing

Usually at the start of a work (or at the start of a new setting) I brainstorm a list of things that could go wrong either in the story or in that particular setting.

The list forces me to think of things that could go wrong and sets my brain thinking in that direction.  And I have a resource to refer to later if I need to.

When I sit down to start writing, I try to begin a chapter by resolving a previous problem or setting the stage for a new problem.

I try to always end a chapter in the midst of a low point for the protagonist.  It can be a physical low point or an emotional low point.

Writing Exercise:

Brainstorm a list:

  • Of things that could get in your protagonist’s way of their goal.
  • Of terrible things that could happen to your protagonist.
  • Of characters your protagonist needs in their life, and how they could disappear.

Don’t worry about how your character will get out of it, or how they’ll overcome it.
Don’t worry about how it will fit into your plot.
Don’t worry about how extreme it might be.

Links Quoted in this Post:

Maggie Stiefvater, Blog Post: Bringing Out Your Inner Sadist
http://m-stiefvater.livejournal.com/103969.html

Maggie Stiefvater, Collection of Posts on Writing
http://m-stiefvater.livejournal.com/214290.html

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Basics of Creative Writing
http://www.writingclasses.com/InformationPages/index.php/PageID/538/

Janet Fitch’s 10 Rules for Writers
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2010/07/janet-fitchs-10-rules-for-writers.html

The 22 Rules of Storytelling According to Pixar
http://io9.com/5916970/the-22-rules-of-storytelling-according-to-pixar

Blog Post: The Sadism of Fiction
(or, What Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Writing)
http://fuzzymango.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/the-sadism-of-fiction-or-what-game-of-thrones-can-teach-us-about-writing/

Ava Jae, of “Writablity: Tips, Tricks and Thoughts from One Writer to Cyberspace”
http://avajae.blogspot.com/2012/01/every-writer-should-be-sadist.html

2012 Francelia Butler Conference Winner

Each year at my graduate program, a conference is held to honor the work of the graduate students.  Students may submit work in each of the following categories: critical papers, creative stories, and original artwork to win one of three awards presented at the conference.

This was the first time I’ve ever entered any sort of writing contest.  The past two years I’ve simply attended this conference as an observer, and I did not enter anything in any of the categories.

There were 24 creative submissions this year, all from Hollins University MFA graduate students in Children’s Literature.

Last week, I learned my entry was one of the creative submissions selected to be read at the conference, and that my piece would be one of five pieces to go on to be judged by outside judges for the final honor of Best Creative Submission.  The judges for this year’s FBC conference were: Ashley Wolff (children’s book author and illustrator), Bruce Coville (children’s and YA author), and Michele Ebersole (Professor of Children’s Literature at University of Hawaii).

And… as you may have guessed by the title of this post… I won!

I entered the first 12 pages (first 3,000 words) of a short story I wrote in my Fantasy Genre Study course last summer.  The current title is “Rebel Angel” and the story is about a rebellious guardian angel who is sent to Earth on her first mission where she must save a boy from being recruited by a gang.

Below are pictures of me reading my selection at the conference.  I was nervous to speak in front of a crowd of adults as opposed to 11-14 year olds.  But after a lot of practice, all went smoothly.  A few funny parts in my story even got some laughs from the audience!  🙂

I was extremely honored to be recognized, especially knowing what talented writers are in my classes here at Hollins.  I only have one more week of classes left, and I think I can say that this summer has exceeded my expectations in almost every way.

Week 2 & 3 Grad Class Recap

I have had zero time to blog, which was quite unexpected.  Last summer I took three classes and it was really tough.  I am only taking two classes this summer, and I thought that would leave me with more time: to write, to blog, to read for pleasure.  But that has not been the case.

The culprits: Critique and Insane Weather

I really take critiquing my peers work seriously because I know how valuable feedback is to a writer.  And for some of my classmates who aren’t a part of a writing group, this is the only feedback they get.  I also believe it’s a give and take, people will spend more time on your work if you spend more time on theirs.  I’m taking two creative courses, and between both classes, I’m critiquing 16 people’s work per week and between 120-160 pages.  Or roughly, it’s been taking me 45 minutes to an hour per person.  So… I’ve been overwhelmed by critique.  Other than Saturdays and Sundays, I’ve had no time to write, much less blog or read for pleasure.  BUT!  I do think that being able to critique is a valuable skill.  And who knows… I’m not planning on teaching forever.  I could see myself enjoying being an editor someday…

And last weekend, here on the East Coast, we were hit by this thing called a “derecho.”  Had never heard of it before, but it resulted in high winds (gusts up to 80 mph) that tore down trees, tore some of the roof off the University Library, and killed power throughout the region.  This was extra horrible because the temps have been over 100 degrees and without power… we had no air-conditioning.  The University was without power for about 36 hours which was much better than most other areas.  (I know people who are still without power… now 7 days later.  Ugh.)  Below are some pictures that illustrate how torn up campus was after the storm:

Thanks to my friend and fellow blogger Caroline at ProseBeforeWoes for sharing her pictures!

Here’s a brief summary of what we’ve been up to in my classes!!!  ^_^

Dystopian and Science Fiction:

We went over common elements of dystopian fiction.  Some elements we discussed are dehumanization, control of information, loss of freedom, focus on society.  We’ve been using Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy as a writing guide for our class.  It’s been very helpful.  During one class, we discussed chapter 3 in the book and talked about four different ways to structure your narrative (MICE: Milieu story,  Idea story, Character story, or Event story).  I discovered that one of my stories is a character story because the story revolves around my protagonist’s transformation.  Whereas, my dystopian story is an event story because the story revolves around the world making a transformation and being restructured from an event.

I also had a MAJOR revelation in regards to my dystopian WIP.  I’ve been frustrated because I didn’t know how to end my story.  Dystopian novels typically end one of two ways: revolution or escape.  Either the society/government is upended due to rebellion, or the protagonist runs away from the society they’ve grown to detest.  I wanted to find a new/different way to end my story.  And I did it!  I came up with an absolutely fabulous plot twist!!!  I’m so freaking excited.  I haven’t read any dystopian novel that does this, and I think I have something fresh on my hands.  And it allows for BRILLIANT sequel possibilities.

I also read Across the Universe for this class and will be posting a much delayed review of that this weekend as well.

Advanced Tutorial

My steampunk WIP for this class has been going much better than I expected.  I worried a little that the idea might be too strange and different.  But my class seems to be connecting with my characters really well.  They absolutely hate the characters I want them to hate and they love the characters I want them to love.  And they find my protagonist extremely sympathetic.  Yay!  I was also worried if I could pull off one of the settings… a factory… and have it make sense.  I haven’t exactly worked in a factory.  But they said my world-building is fantastic, and there’s been no confusion in how the factory is set up.  Double YAY!  And my pacing and plot are still strong.  As well as my “brushstroke” descriptions.  I don’t do heavy description.  I try to pick no more than three details to bring a character or setting to life.  I never do more than three, and I think it forces me to pick the three details that are most revealing and important.

There are still some things I need to work on.  My protagonist thinks in a puzzle-solving, scientific, mathematical way, and that’s hard for me to pull-off consistently because that’s not how I think at all.  I also need to do a better job of including my protagonist’s emotions and reactions to situations.  And I have my secondary characters down, but I need to add background people or tertiary characters to give my settings more vibrancy.  But I think for a first draft, I’m doing quite well.  And I sooooo appreciate both the constructive and positive feedback.  There is nothing more valuable to a writer than feedback!

I now have 10,620 words for my steampunk WIP.  Before the summer started I had sporadic key scenes and the first 1,600 words.  So I’m writing about 3,000 words a week which is great considering I’ve only had time to write on Saturdays and Sundays!  I trap myself in the library for 6-7 hours at a time and crank out the pages.  I’ve found I’m still doing a lot of research which slows me down a bit.  I’d love if I could hit 30,000 words before I leave for the summer.  We’ll see!

I am so, so, so behind in reading blogs.  I’ll read a post here and there on my iPhone when I’m stuck waiting somewhere, but it’s depressing how behind I am.  I’m going to try to do some commenting this weekend, but I’m not going to make any promises  😦  I still have loads of schoolwork to do.  But I promise to catch up at some point!