Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Do You Read YA? + Cover Reveal

(I had déjà vu after I wrote this, so I might have already posted on this topic.)

In 2011, I attended an Oregon SCBWI retreat, and one of the guest speakers was Ellen Hopkins. (Click to visit her website.) She's the author of over a half-dozen YA bestsellers. These are gritty, thought-provoking contemporary novels written in verse, such as:

CRANK. Loosely based on Ellen's older daughter’s story of addiction to crystal meth.
GLASS. A sequel to CRANK, to continue the character Kristina's story.
IMPULSE. 3 young people's lives intersect in a psych hospital after attempted suicides.
PERFECT. A sequel to IMPULSE. Four high- school seniors' goals toward perfection, and the different paths they take to get there.
BURNED. A young woman struggles in the face of abuse by the person she most adores: her father. She questions her family, her faith, and her ability to love and be loved.

What do these and her other books have in common? They are all New York Times bestsellers. Ellen's initial question at our retreat was: "How many of you have heard of me?" After a show of hands, she said it wasn't to sound conceited or egotistical, but that we SHOULD have heard of her. And that's true.

This is simply because if we as writers are focusing on writing Young Adult fiction, we should be familiar with the bestsellers in YA. We must know what else is out there, the books being published and selling well. Reading in our age category—and also in our genre—keeps us current about the market. As writers, we can also dissect these books, and analyze why they're popular.

So! Have you read Ellen's books, and/or read these YA bestsellers?
1. DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth
2. THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak
5. THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins
6. THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner
7. HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick
8. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman
10. MATCHED by Ally Condie
11. THE LOST HERO by Rick Riordan  NOTE: I later discovered this one is actually MG!
12. SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater


Today is the celebration of a cover reveal for PK Hrezo's new and fascinating New Adult novel, BUTTERMAN (TIME) TRAVEL, INC. Isn't this a great cover? Congrats to PK on the imminent launch of her book!

Coming soon on November 12, 2013. If you enjoy a good time travel tale shot through with romance, this is the book for you! Visit PK's blogsite HERE, and her website HERE.

How many books on this bestseller list have you read?
What other NY Times bestsellers have you read, that aren't on this list?
If you could walk into a time travel agency and book a time trip, where and when would YOU go?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Paragraph Makeover: FEAR

So. Let's say you have scene in your novel or short fiction where there are a couple of paragraphs of FEAR. Your main character realizes she's being followed…by a wolf-like creature. (And just in time for Halloween, too.)

How do you write these paragraphs? How do you maximize the emotion of fear?

FIRST TRY. You could write it like this:
Sherise threw a glance over her shoulder, and saw only gloomy evening shadows in the field behind her. She could've sworn she'd heard a noise, a noise that didn't belong. Her feet picked up speed. The noise came again, howling like a wolf, sounding way too close for comfort. Shivers rippled down her spine.

The howling came a third time, and a dark shaggy shadow darted in her peripheral. It looked like a big dog, or maybe a wolf, but she'd never known a wolf to come this close to the city limits. Her heart pounded up into her throat as the shaggy creature emerged from behind a bush right in front of her and stared at her with glowing yellow eyes. She halted in fear, not knowing which way to run.

While the example above works, it could be made stronger:
Don't use "renegade body parts." When things like "her feet picked up speed" are used, it sounds disjointed, like the feet are acting on their own, separated from a body.
Don't use cliché phrases for fear. Shivers rippling down one's spine and hearts pounding into one's throat have been used so often they don't deliver as much impact. Try for a dash of originality, or use inner thoughts rather than describing only physical reactions.
Saying phrases like "in fear" TELLS your reader the emotion your character is feeling rather than showing that fear. Try not to label emotions unless it's unclear or opposite from the normal reaction (like giggling when she's afraid or panicked).
Use shorter sentences. Fragments, even. They help convey a breathless urgency.
Consider using first person to give more of a sense of immediacy. Especially with young adult novels, readers love the close experiences that first person can give. Using present tense can add even more of a "you-are-there" feeling.
Be specific. What kind of noise did the character hear—what did it sound like? Utilize the five senses to make the scene come alive.
Add tension by formatting. Don't be afraid to start sentences on new lines to draw out the tension. Use well-placed dashes or italics for emphasis (but don't overdo them).

I threw a glance over my shoulder. Fingers of evening shadows blurred out across the field behind me. I could've sworn I'd heard a noise, a disjointed whine. Too creepy. I shivered and picked up speed, grasses whipping the legs of my jeans.

Some shortcut. I wish I'd stuck to the streets, now.

The cry came again to my left, rising to an unearthly howl. Eerie, unhinged. A dark shaggy shadow darted in my peripheral. A big dog? A wolf, here in the city limits? It didn't sound like any dog or wolf I'd ever heard. I broke into a run. Air hissed in and out of my mouth. The shadow kept up.

I tried to swallow, but my throat just convulsed.

The creature flashed by with impossible speed and emerged from a bush in front of me. I staggered to a halt, pinned by a set of glowing yellow eyes. Running wouldn't help me now.  

Is it easy or difficult for you to write scenes of fear?
Do you have any other helpful tips for writing scenes with high emotions?
How would you intensify the fear and tension in these examples—adding a smell, maybe?