Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why Writing is Hard

I bet many of you are thinking DUH. However, it’s possible not all of you agree, which is why this needs to be said. Writing is hard. It’s downright difficult. If it’s easy, then you’re doing it wrong.

Books are long
Books are hundreds of pages long. They're hard to keep track of in my head, even if I'm just reading them! I struggle every day with the structure and organization of my story. It’s hard to remember what happened in chapter 12 to such-and-such character in the conservatory with the candlestick. And why they need to be in the ballroom in chapter 13, dancing with the wrench. Wait… I may have confused my plotline with the classic board game Clue.

It's like this.

There are a lot of words
Google is giving me conflicting results on how many words there are in the English language, but it looks like it’s almost 200,000. That’s a lot of words to choose from when writing. What if something isn’t just great? What if it's exceptional or splendid or fantastic or extraordinary?! How am I supposed to choose the right degree of awesome? Also, it occurs to me that the word count goal for my novel is 75,000. That’s less than half of the words that are available to choose from. Le sigh.

Anything can happen
Literally. I could have my character jump off a cliff, find a hidden world in a tree truck or meet Doctor Who (well, that would probably be against some kind of copyright law). But seriously, I can make anything happen while writing, within reason. And sometime outside reason. That gives me an extraordinary number of potential plot fails. So finding the “right” plot for my characters? Not easy.

So, writing is hard. But, I do it anyway.

Because I like making things up. I like creating worlds that are my own, with my own form of fantasy and insanity. I like my characters, who sometimes do what I say and occasionally act on their own (you’d think that’d be frightening but it’s actually kind of cool). I enjoy frolicking in the fields of my own imagination.

So even though books are long, even though there are thousands of words to choose from and even though there are an endless number of beginnings, middles and ends, I write. It’s difficult, but I love it anyway. Or maybe I love it because it’s difficult.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Interpreting Happily Ever After

And they lived happily ever after… or maybe they didn’t. Maybe they broke up in a fiery fight a month or year later. Maybe there were curse words and flying objects. Maybe there was couples’ counseling.


As readers, we like to believe that certain fictional couples—our favorites usually—stay together forever. I like to believe that Katniss and Peeta, Ron and Hermione, Harry and Ginny, Cath and Levi, Etienne and Anna all lived “happily ever after.” Or that they lived together, and worked every day on their relationships.

Some YA authors don’t give their couples a “happily ever after” and I understand why. Teens are young. Who finds their soulmate in high school? Okay so I know a few couples, but mostly, no. These young couples are still growing, still changing, maybe one or both aren’t ready for a long-term relationship or maybe they don’t know each other that well.

As it turns out, even if characters are together in a flash-forward epilogue, it doesn’t mean they live happily. I did relish Ron and Hermione’s get-married-have-children-send-them-off-to-Hogwarts-a-dozen-years-later ending. The “happily ever after” I imagined for them changed with Emma Watson’s interview with Rowling. I realize now that Ron and Hermione might have needed couples’ counseling. Maybe (even though it pains me to admit this) Hermione would have been happier with Harry or someone else entirely. But Rowling didn’t leave the Deathly Hallows epilogue open for interpretation. That ending is unchangeable.

(I take solace in the fact that no matter how many people that interview reaches, it will never be able to reach as many people as the books have.)

Seven years ago, people disliked the resolute nature of the Deathly Hallows epilogue. Now, this revelation has readers fired up again. However, I’ve also seen readers criticize authors that leave endings open for interpretation. Even though it’s not right that it’s a lose-lose situation, it’s the nature of writing beloved characters.

It's my opinion that no matter how a story ends, I can imagine the ending any way I like. Authors can’t take away my imagined ending, whether it was mirrored in text or not. In the end, books belong to their readers.*

So, I imagine Ron and Hermione together, living mostly happily. They may argue on a semi-regular basis and they may need an occasional trip to counseling. But they love each other. It’s not a romantic life, but it’s realistic. And it’s my interpretation.
What's your interpretation of Ron and Hermione's happily ever after? What about any favorite YA couples?


*John Green said this, but I imagine others have as well.  

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Three Traits I Require to Love Fictional Characters

I’m not on board with all fandoms. I don’t LOVE every YA book I read. (Though I do like quite a lot.) When I read a book or watch a TV show/movie, there are three things I’m looking for. If these three things are well-done and if they are all there, it can nearly guarantee my love for the characters.
They need to be likable. I need to be drawn to them. I need to be unable to stop reading or watching their stories. They are intelligent and courageous. They are revolutionaries. Protectors. Individuals. They are good. (Though not necessarily wholesome.)


They have chemistry with their friends, companions and/or lovers. Real, strong relationships. Like Sherlock and John or the Doctor and his companions. Heroes find people to complement them and to keep them sane and laughing. Because where would Katniss be without Peeta’s good heart? Where would Harry be without Ron and Hermione?


They’re weird. Which makes it okay for me to be weird.
Okay really just any excuse to use this picture.
(Not that I would visit Buckingham Palace wrapped in a sheet.)

Bowties are cool.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

This Post is not about Dying, but about Living

Death is not convenient. Loss is not easy. As humans, we wouldn’t want it the other way around. We want to feel connections wholly, even if it means there will be emptiness when we lose someone.

Lose. A nuance of the English language. To lose someone, like they took a wrong turn on the way home from the grocery, or simply got separated in a crowd.

Maybe we use that word because the other one is too difficult to say. We’d rather not admit it to ourselves, let alone to others. Of course, maybe there’s also an innate hope that the loss is not irretrievable. That it can be reversed. That the person can be found again, someday.

In a time when I am experiencing loss, it occurred to me to make a list of YA books with themes of dying. The first book that popped into mind was The Fault in Our Stars. But then I remembered that somewhere, sometime, I heard someone (maybe John Green?) describe The Fault in Our Stars as a book that isn’t about dying, but about living.

Which sounds happier, more optimistic and all around better. Especially to me, right now.

So here are four YA novels, that aren’t about dying, but about LIVING:

If I Stay - Gayle Forman

In this hovering-at-the-edge tale, Mia chooses between life and death after a fatal accident claims her parents’ lives. When I finished If I Stay, I was reminded that every day we choose whether to live or die. It takes courage to make that choice. And courage to decide the extent to which we fulfill it.

The Sky is Everywhere - Jandy Nelson

When Lennie’s older sister dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted from the shadows to center stage of her own life. Upon finishing The Sky is Everywhere, I was reminded that it takes time to accept loss. It’s not something we come to terms with overnight. Losing someone affects us; it affects our decisions and how we view the world around us.


The Spectacular Now - Tim Tharp

When life-of-the-party Sutter meets social disaster Aimee, he takes it upon himself to show her how to live in the now. Of course, it doesn’t turn out how either of them expected. When it comes to The Spectacular Now, it’s really all in the name. It’s another way of saying: live in the moment. You can fret about the past and prepare for the future, but how you live in the present is life. It is being alive.


The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

Hazel Grace Lancaster is terminal, but when she meets Augustus Waters at a cancer support group, their heartwarming love leads their stories to be rewritten. When I set down The Fault in Our Stars, I stood up. I got in my car, picked up my boyfriend and drove to one of the settings mentioned in the book. TFIOS is that inspiring. It made me want to live. Right away.

The movie trailer, released this week, might give you some idea as to its power.

Okay, this got a little bit COMPLETELY DRENCHED in clich├ęs. Sorry. #notsorry

But just one more, before I go: Live a life worth living.


This post is dedicated to my beautiful, strong grandmother, who passed away Friday after a long and joyous life.