Win the Goth Girl Rising ARC!

UPDATE: The same quotes can be used multiple times! I’m not judging the “best” quote or anything like that. So if someone has already used “your” quote, feel free to use it again, as long as it’s your favorite.

So, a Goth Girl Rising ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) has come into my possession. I’ve had it for about a month because while I want to give it away to a reader, I haven’t been sure of the fairest way to do so.

I didn’t want to do something entirely random because, well, that’s just no fun. Not for you guys and certainly not for me.

But I also didn’t want to make people jump through too many hoops because then it would be difficult for people who really would like the book to have a shot at it.

Then, last night, it occurred to me: The perfect way to give this thing away.

Tell me your favorite Kyra quote from The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl.

That’s all you have to do! Put it in the comments here or on Facebook or just toss it into Twitter with #ggr-arcin there somewhere. I will choose one entrant pretty much at random to receive the ARC.

Now, if you need time to refresh your memory, this contest will go until July 31, so you have plenty of time to flip through the book or go grab a copy from the library.

In the meantime, while we’re waiting for July 31, I will randomly select from people who enter and send them some signed books, too. So the earlier you enter, the better chance you’ve got of getting something.

That’s it! Have fun!

(The contest is closed, but to see the original entries, click here.)

Writing Advice #7: Show and Tell and More

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog on MySpace devoted to writing advice for teens. Over time, it evolved into a general blog on writing advice for everyone. I blathered on and on, answered questions, etc. Since then, I’ve pointed people to that blog when they’ve sent me questions on writing, but I know that MySpace isn’t always the most, uh, reliable repository for such things. Plus, if you’re not on MySpace, you can read the blogs, but you can’t comment on them.

So once a week (probably on Wednesdays), I’ll be reprinting my writing advice blogs here on barrylyga.com. I’ll go through and edit them a little bit, too, and I might make some merges/changes, so they won’t be exactly like they were on MySpace, but they’ll hopefully still be helpful to people who are interested.

Here we go!

 


At this point in the blog series — back when it was originally on MySpace — a lot of readers were sort of desperate for me to talk about the Path to Publication. And believe me — I wanted to. It’s a fun, fascinating, frustrating topic, after all.

But I decided not to talk about it at this point. See, I think most writers (and I included myself in this group, several years back) are impatient to get to the publishing part when they haven’t yet nailed down the writing stuff yet.

In truth, the publishing stuff is EASY…once you’ve got the writing down pat.

So I’m going to continue talking about writing issues. These may seem basic to some of you, but believe me — they’re not. I spent a year or so as a freelance editor back in the day, and I saw a LOT of these mistakes in people who THOUGHT they were ready to be published.

Strap on your seatbelts. We’re going to spend a few weeks talking about the practical nuts and bolts issues of good writing. Is it sexy? Is it exciting? Not always. But the first step in the Path to Publication is good writing, so we have to start somewhere, right?

Show and Tell

The old adage for writers says, “Show, don’t tell.” You must master this particular skill.

Compare this:
“My, you look lovely today, Jane,” Mrs. Smith said.
Jane was angry. She clenched her teeth.

To this:
“My, you look lovely today, Jane,” Mrs. Smith said, her eyes sparkling with insincerity.
Jane clenched her teeth. Don’t say anything, she warned herself. If you’re lucky, she’ll step into traffic any minute now.

Now, I overdid it a little bit there, but I did so to make a point. In the second set-up, you’re in Jane’s head. You’re deep inside. You know how she feels about this, without ever saying something as pedestrian as “Jane was angry.” In the first, you can figure it out, but doesn’t it feel superficial? There’s no drama to it.

In short, don’t tell your reader “The Jeep was a mess” when you can, instead, say something like: “He groaned as he rounded the corner and saw the Jeep. The hood bowed up at the sides from the impact of tree, and smoke purled out from the engine block. Shattered pieces of headlight glittered in the grass, and the left turn signal was stuck, making it look like the Jeep was winking at him over and over again. It was like looking at some demented smoker who couldn’t stop twitching his eye and blowing his smoke in your face.”

See how that works? It communicates that the Jeep is a mess and it also tells us something about the character at the same time.

Always think of your senses. Writers often think of sound and sight when they write, but they forget about smell, taste, and touch. Don’t just say something smells “bad.” Tell us why it’s bad; tell us that when he was ten, your main character went behind the house and found a dead skunk, but the smell purling up from the ground where his mother died was a thousand times worse.

When we talk about adding details and “showing, not telling,” it doesn’t have to be a lot of details — it just has to be the right detail, told correctly. If this sounds difficult, that’s because it is — choosing the right detail and using it properly and effectively is the real work of writing.

But the result is more powerful prose that makes the reader sit up and take notice…and keep reading.

And that’s what it’s all about — keeping the reader reading, keeping the audience turning those pages. Because when the reader stops turning the pages, he puts down the book. And he might not decide to pick it up again.

Passive Voice/Active Voice

You also want to be certain to make your writing as active as possible. Whenever a character “was standing” or “was watching” or something like that, you’re probably using passive voice. Passive voice is dull and uninteresting. It describes an action instead of showing it. Are there times to use it? Well, of course! Passive voice wouldn’t exist if it didn’t have its uses! But in general, you want the most active sensation to your writing, which means active voice. Go with what gets the blood pumping, metaphorically speaking.

Here’s the test: Which of these seems more interesting and more exciting? “He was being chased” or “They chased him?”

The second one, right? It’s more immediate and it puts us right in the action. Someone is ACTING as opposed to being ACTED UPON.

Verbs

If you have any desire to write at all, then you must know that verbs are the most important words you’ll use. They fire your reader’s imagination more than adjectives or adverbs or nouns. That’s because verbs are about motion and emotion.

Nothing brings a scene to a halt faster than a lackluster verb. One to watch out for in particular is the verb to be. It’s a very weak verb. Avoid it. Find better, stronger verbs.

Here’s an example: He was afraid.

OK, nothing really WRONG with that sentence, but what if it read: He quaked in fear.

Which sentence communicates more to you? Which one is more powerful, more visceral?

Other verbs to avoid: to see, to feel, to walk. All are boring. It’s tough to kill these, I know, but it’s worth it. You can find other, more interesting and exciting words to get your point across. To glance. To swoon. To saunter.

While you’re working on those million bad words, go through your writing. Look for instances where you’re telling and you should be showing. Look for instances where you use passive voice or boring verbs. When you rewrite, do so with an eye towards fixing those problems. You’ll have taken a big step in the right direction.

OK, gang! Feel free to ask questions in the comments. I’ll see y’all again next week!

Harmony Book Reviews: Hero-Type

Here it is: My first interview specifically about Hero-Type. Check it out at Harmony Book Reviews.

Writing Advice #6: Write What You Know (Kinda)

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog on MySpace devoted to writing advice for teens. Over time, it evolved into a general blog on writing advice for everyone. I blathered on and on, answered questions, etc. Since then, I’ve pointed people to that blog when they’ve sent me questions on writing, but I know that MySpace isn’t always the most, uh, reliable repository for such things. Plus, if you’re not on MySpace, you can read the blogs, but you can’t comment on them.

So once a week (probably on Wednesdays), I’ll be reprinting my writing advice blogs here on barrylyga.com. I’ll go through and edit them a little bit, too, and I might make some merges/changes, so they won’t be exactly like they were on MySpace, but they’ll hopefully still be helpful to people who are interested.

Here we go!


Hello again, everyone! Another week, another blog.

Before I get started, I want to apologize in advance — I’m going to make references to The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl and Boy Toy in this blog. I try to keep my books out of the Writing Advice columns because I’m trying to help people, not sell books to them! But my books serve as a good illustration to this week’s topic, so I’m going to discuss them a tiny bit. if you find that pushy, well, sorry. No one says you have to buy either of them. (If you want to read them, but don’t want to put money in my pocket, go to your local library. That’ll teach me.)

Anyway. This week, we’re going to talk a little bit about that old canard “Write what you know.” This is, often, one of the very first things young writers are told and often it leads to moments of complete terror and panic.

“But… But I want to write about the rebels of Zyrus V and their ongoing struggle against the tyrannical Debrifiv Empire, an interstellar despotic realm ruled with an iron fist by a species of intelligent vanilla pudding pops! How can I do that if I have to write what I know?”

Or:

“But I’m only seventeen and I want to write about a guy in his thirties who’s dealing with the death of his wife.”

Or:

“I don’t know anything!”

Even worse, sometimes the reaction is not panic, but is, rather:

“OK, if I should write what I know, then that’s ALL I’ll do.” With the result that you get a lot of stories that read EXACTLY like the author’s life. Thinly-veiled autobiographies pretending to be fiction. These have a whole host of problems of their own, two of which are BIG issues:

1) Getting hamstrung by reality
2) Using reality as a defense

Those are two very nasty problems, and I’m going to talk about them another time. For now, just file them away.

OK, so I’ve thrown out some information here. Let’s take a look at what it all actually MEANS.

“Write what you know” does NOT mean “Hello, young writer! You must write only that which you are completely and totally familiar with AND, furthermore, you must do so in a manner that is utterly and completely enslaved to what actually happened.”

Ugh. No! If that were the case, then no one would ever have to do research and the only books we’d have available would be autobiographies. And most of them would be badly written.

“Write what you know” is not a specific command. It does not mean, “You once played football in high school. Therefore you may — and MUST — write about that.”

Look at it this way: Let’s say you DID play football in high school. Now think about what that meant to you. Think about experiences that may be SIMILAR to playing high school football. Experiences that evoke the same emotions and sensations.

As a high school football player, you know what it means to be a part of a team. Maybe that was a good thing — you learned how to work with others in order to succeed. Maybe that means you could apply that feeling to, say, a novel about a soldier in an Army unit. You do your research on the military, you filter your experiences through that research, and you’re off.

Or maybe your experience on the football team SUCKED. So you know what it’s like to be the outcast, the one person on the team who doesn’t belong. Maybe you can use that experience to channel the feelings of a young space pilot who is an outcast in his intergalactic squadron…because he’s the only human in the fleet.

In my first book, I used my teen years as the basic template, but I added a LOT to the mix. I made Fanboy an only child, for one thing. (I had a younger brother and five step-siblings!). I made Fanboy’s Mom pregnant, just to up his angst a little bit. I made him much more of a loner than I was, with exactly ONE friend. In short, I “wrote what I knew” and then amplified and extended it. As a result, the book resonated with people who read it — there was a solid foundation of real emotions and experiences upon which the fiction rested.

That first book also had a LOT of comic book references in it, and the main character is a budding comic book artist. Now, I can’t draw a straight line to save my life, but it wasn’t too long ago that I was a struggling writer. And I was — and am — a huge comic book fan. I applied the same fears, misgivings, and worries that I had as a writer to Fanboy’s quest to succeed as a comic book creator. The result was something utterly believable and compelling to the reader. I was able to apply my knowledge of comics to Fanboy and make his passion come alive for the reader because it was a passion I shared.

In my second book, Josh — the main character — has gone through a hellish experience that I never had to live with. But I came to realize that I did have certain similarities with him. Like me, Josh was a perfectionist about his grades. Like me, Josh was watching his parents’ marriage fall apart. Even though I never had the terrible past Josh had in the book, there were enough similarities between the two of us that I was able to make Josh come alive. Josh is obsessed with baseball and math…and I’m not. So how did I make that work? Well, it was easy, once I realized how to do it. EVERYONE has an obsession. And we all react to them and perceive the world through the lens of our obsessions. I love comics, so whenever I thought of a comic book reference, I realized that Josh would think of baseball or math instead…and I just went from there.

“Write what you know” can sometimes seem limiting, and it IS limiting…if you take it literally. But once you realize that you can take what you know and apply it to a broad range of what you DON’T know and make those foreign feelings REAL… Well, hell — then “write what you know” is easy and very, very powerful.

Oh, and if you think that you don’t have enough life experience to write a good story, remember this bit of wisdom from the great Flannery O’Connor: She said that anyone who survives childhood has enough material to write about for a lifetime.

You’ve survived, right?

So get writing.

Writing Advice #5: Writer’s Block

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog on MySpace devoted to writing advice for teens. Over time, it evolved into a general blog on writing advice for everyone. I blathered on and on, answered questions, etc. Since then, I’ve pointed people to that blog when they’ve sent me questions on writing, but I know that MySpace isn’t always the most, uh, reliable repository for such things. Plus, if you’re not on MySpace, you can read the blogs, but you can’t comment on them.

So once a week (probably on Wednesdays), I’ll be reprinting my writing advice blogs here on barrylyga.com. I’ll go through and edit them a little bit, too, and I might make some merges/changes, so they won’t be exactly like they were on MySpace, but they’ll hopefully still be helpful to people who are interested.

Here we go!

 


Ah, yes, writer’s block. That scourge of writers everywhere! Shouldn’t we have a telethon to look for a cure? Shouldn’t there be a car ribbon for Writer’s Block Awareness?

Nah, not really.

Here’s the thing: Writer’s block isn’t something you should concern yourself with. Why? Because it’s really no big deal.

See, writer’s block is only as bad as you allow it to be. Once you understand the types of writer’s block and a few easy tricks, it’s fairly easy to avoid it and/or conquer it.

There are really two kinds of writer’s block:

“I don’t know what to write.” — This is when you want to be a writer and you want to write and you sit down at the keyboard and you can’t think of a damn thing to write about. Fortunately for you, we’ve covered this already. Refresh your memory here if you missed the last blog.

“I’m stuck on my current project.” — Now this is a whole different thing.

This particular flavor of writer’s block occurs when you already have your idea and maybe a rough outline and a few chapters that hold together pretty well and a general ending in mind and then…

Everything…

Just…

Stops…

Dead…

That REALLY sucks.

I’ve been there. We’ve ALL been there. It’s part and parcel of writing. But it’s OK because there are some tricks and techniques and even a cheat you can use to get around this.

So, let’s pretend. You’re working on your latest book, the modestly titled The Greatest Book Ever, Even Better than My Last One (TGBEEBTMLO for short). You’re six chapters in and the main character, Lance deGoodguy, has just learned that his wife is cheating on him with an ocelot. Lance is distraught. He drives all night to dull the pain, eventually winding up at the bridge where he proposed to his wife, all those years ago.

And…

And…

Well, he can’t JUMP. Lance is the good guy, in case you haven’t noticed. He’s the main character. And besides, you already know how the book ends — Lance discovers new love AND the secret formula for calorie-free chocolate sauce when he stumbles upon a hidden chemistry lab in the ruins of a Bangladeshi temple. (His faithless wife, tragically, dies when she falls from a tree, unable to cope with the ocelot’s arboreal lifestyle.)

But in the meantime… You’ve got nothing. You’re blocked. Poor Lance is on the bridge and he hasn’t even bought his ticket to Bangladesh yet. What the hell do you do now?

OK, here are the options:

Work on something else
Seriously. Don’t go banging your head against the wall. It’s not like there’s someone standing over your shoulder, forcing you to write TGBEEBTMLO to the exclusion of all else. You read the blog on inspiration, right? There are roughly ten duotrigintillion ideas floating around out there at any random moment in time — grab one and start working on it. Your mind will become preoccupied with the new project, freeing up your subconscious to work on the problem of what to do with poor Lance on that bridge and how to get him to the travel agency and how to make him choose Bangladesh as his destination. Next thing you know, you’ve solved your problem. (And, as a bonus, you now have a new, second story to work on!)

Play “what if?”
This is a tried-and-true solution that I’ve heard many authors swear by, though I confess I’ve never used it myself. Basically, you just spitball a bunch of ideas, trusting to the machinegun effect — if you fire enough bullets, one of ’em is bound to hit the target. So think of every possible thing that can happen to Lance on that bridge: He jumps, but someone has tied a bungie cord around his ankles. He jumps, but a giant bird snatches him out of mid-air. He forgets to put the parking brake on and his car rolls down the street, causing him to chase after it. His car gets rear-ended by an SUV piloted by the bastard step-child of Rosie O’Donnell and Grant Morrison. Whatever. No idea is too outlandish or too stupid and one of them just might lead you to your solution. Like I said, I’ve never actually used this one (because I prefer the last item in the list), but I have writer buddies who swear by it.

Back up
The theory here is that the point at which you’re blocked isn’t REALLY the problem. The problem came a few pages or chapters ago, when you set yourself on the path that LED you to this impasse. Basically, it’s like running down a long, dark alleyway and being trapped. The problem isn’t the wall at the end of the alley — it’s that you were stupid enough to run down the alley in the first place. So back up and try again. Maybe Lance doesn’t get in the car when he finds out about his wife’s infidelity; maybe he goes down into the basement and digs out old photo albums instead. Or maybe he gets in the car, but drives to his best friend’s house instead of the bridge.

Skip ahead (cheat)
This is actually my favorite solution and the one I use all the time. It feels like cheating, but it really isn’t.

Here’s what you do: Since you already know what’s going to happen later in the book, you just skip to that part. No, really. Seriously. Do it.

“But, Barry,” you say. “Don’t I have to write the book, y’know, in ORDER? Like, from beginning to end?”

Uh, no. You don’t. I hereby give you permission to write the damn thing backwards or diagonally if that helps. (If you figure out how to write diagonally, tell me — I want to see that).

So do what I do: Skip over the scene that’s giving you trouble (Lance on that bridge) and move on to the next scene you already know has to happen, the next scene that’s solid in your mind. (Say, Lance in that travel agency office.) Now you can keep writing because you’re not jammed up on that old scene any more.

What will happen is this: As you keep working on the new “future” scene, you’ll slowly come to realize how to connect between this new scene and the one you abandoned. It may take a little while, but it WILL happen. In the meantime, keep writing from your new starting point — yeah, you’ve left a little hole that you’ll have to patch later, but in the meantime, you’re still making progress on the book, right?

The most important thing to remember about writer’s block: Don’t panic. Honestly, if you panic, you’ll just make it worse. Don’t get all emo about it — just take a deep breath and use one of the techniques above. This isn’t swine flu or a terminal illness — you’re in charge.

The other most important thing: What you write is private until YOU decide to make it public. Don’t be afraid to write the suckiest, crappiest piece of sucky crap in the world. You can always delete it later. What matters is keeping your fingers on that keyboard, which — I swear — is the best way to break through that block.