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Your Workspace is All Wrong (And What's Essential to Boost Productivity)



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The way we writers work is peculiar, and actually, particular. Though I've found that one method for one novels doesn't always suit another novel. Some of us are fully digitised, others still handwrite half of their work, and many of us are an amalgam in between. 

Me? I like to outline with tangible plot points, create and reshuffle, and I do this with post it notes on cork boards. I can keep track of pacing, interlocked story lines and character frequency. I can sketch landscapes and statues therein. But when it comes to writing, it has to be in Word.

But today, I want to talk about healthy creative environments.


So, at the moment, I'm on the floor in my living room, more from my uncanny ability to sit cross-legged for extended periods of time and the fact that I just spent the better part of a year extricated from my family in HSC mode (and I'm attempting to quash complaints that they never see me despite my nearly always being home). That, and the wifi conks out on my end of the house and it's infuriating.

I've never been one to work well outside my house. Seriously. I can't study in libraries, I can't write in coffee shops or at the beach. I don't even work that well on my balcony.

But now, I'm stuck here. To the right: 50-inch plasma TV with Blu-ray surround sound. To the left: parents who are slightly deaf and thus turn aforementioned TV up very loud. Behind those boards: the kitchen, where every appliance is like thunder and mortar rounds when anyone operates them.

Solution: move. But where?

So, what exactly are the essentials

You have to have physical comfort, namely a sitting positing that isn't distracting or painful or pins-and-needles-inducing, loose and preferably soft clothes, and temperature control. Not to mention light. I like a well-lit but not fluorescent room.

Noise within your threshold of background sound, which varies person to person. I actually like sound when I need to concentrate, and that's become more soundtracks than anything else lately. My most productive time is at night, when everyone's gone to bed, and I can leave the TV on at a normal volume, blend Hans Zimmer into it, and talk to myself and my proverbial brain beast that roams freely around the living room. 

Tools within reach or already set up, be it your laptop charger, hard drive, textbooks, folders of research and plotting. Could you imagine running out of battery in the middle of the Natasha/Loki interrogation of The Avengers

Sing it with me: SUUUUUUSTENANCE! Water or tea or coffee, jubes or crisps or apples. From many weeks of constant studying, I'll tell you this: above all, leaving your post in search of food or drink is THE ULTIMATE PROCRASTINATION TOOL. I don't know why that was capitalised. 

You know what I'm about to do?

Well, clean my room primarily (because clearly to show people my party tricks in the backyard, my room at the front of the house has to be impeccable), but also relocate myself to my larger-than-Hulk desk. I've already boxed all of my school work, so it's just a matter of setting up some cork boards and figuring out how to boost my wifi signal. 

But I'd like to hear from you guys. Where do you work best? Did it take you a while to find it, or was it somehow forced on you? Do you need your environment to tie directly to the environment you're writing about? Any tips for making a perfect workspace?





Review: Unravelling by Elizabeth Norris



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Series: Unravelling #1
Release date: June 2012
Publisher: Harpercollin's Children's Books
Pages: 445
Source: Berkelouw Books
Rating: 
STOP THE COUNTDOWN. SAVE THE WORLD…

Leaving the beach, seventeen-year-old Janelle Tenner is hit head on by a pickup truck.

And killed.

Then Ben Michaels, resident stoner, is leaning over her. And even though it isn’t possible, she knows Ben somehow brought her back to life…

Meanwhile, Janelle’s father, a special agent for the FBI, starts working on a case that seems strangely connected to Ben. Digging in his files, Janelle finds a mysterious device – one that seems to be counting down to something that will happen in 23 days and 10 hours time.

That something? It might just be the end of the world. And if Janelle wants to stop it, she’s going to need to uncover Ben’s secrets – and keep from falling in love with him in the process…

It's described as 24 meets X-Files and as a blockbuster, but that is seriously underestimating the sheer awesomesauce of this debut from Elizabeth Norris. Andrea Cremer is a little closer, likening it to if Veronica Mars snatched a case from Mulder and Scully. The thing is this: from the synopsis, this doesn't really seem like a scifi, but it actually, brilliantly is. It's also a little pre-apocalyptic, I suppose. Norris expertly immerses you into a character that lets you see the "offness" of the goings on around her and concerning her, which escalates and grows in an addictive way until BAM - scifi glory and bamf.

Norris finds a perfect mesh of internal and external conflict, and a voice in our protagonist, Janelle, that is intelligent, passionate and resonating. Her inner strength, her loyalty and preoccupation with her family - the connections and characterisation we experience through Janelle makes the fluctuations of Joss-Whedon-kill-your-darlings really effective (and tearjerking).

I read the last 250+ pages after midnight - I thought I was going to do a couple chapters, but when this books kicks on the turn, it kicks. It is intense. Like, intense. The plot line is gripping, there is an absence of a love triangle, and an act of logic and selflessness to close. It's easy to engage with Janelle, and for once, there was a proper and respectable use of "fuck" that effectively characterised a supporting character.

While at times, the dialogue is corny and a bit repetitive, and the pop culture references a little on the shallow side, the book is fast-paced and captures the breathlessness of a teenager trying to make sense of a world crumbling around them, literally and figuratively. And there are a few red herrings, which I always applaud, because despite the formulaic twists and structure of Unravelling, there was a final turn at the climax that got me.

Overall, Norris has an understated, flowing style of writing that captures you, even if you've put the book down for a day. For authors looking to see examples of well-paced YA with innovative strands of science fiction/action/fantasy/thriller/whatever, this is a must-read. And honestly, I'm just generally recommending this one.

Have we seen the end of action-oriented YA?



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Well, have we?

A lot of writers struggle with balancing action and suspense with realistic development and emotion. I've received a couple emails about concerns that in writing physical struggles at the forefront, internal conflict plays second fiddle. 

In many ways, characters vs. plot or even the conflict in pleasing your readers vs. pleasing yourself.

We get caught up in all the little opinions - agents condemn certain features and talk about the importance of "emotion" and issues relevant to the YA audience, and critics on sites like Goodreads can be absolutely brutal about their preferences. We as authors have a tendency to reconsider our choices and our work in their desire to be relevant and pleasing and, well, good.

But it's all about balance.

And I do mean action-oriented and not action-packed

All plots have a sense of urgency to them, and that pacing is absolutely vital. It's important not to forgo that in the mistaken belief that it's action-action. With action-oriented YA, growth doesn't become irrelevant, the character arc is a bonus, not the point. I don't know about you, but I crave pure action. As much as internalised dialogue and reflection has its place, I very much prefer to witness a character's arc through their finding out a way to deal the madness that is thrown at them.

This is where I tell you that Bella should've figured a way to overcome her situation and thus discover her ability to function and flourish independent of a significant other. Much as Katniss probably should have transcended her selfish struggle between martyrdom as the mockingjay and her desires.

But above all, you need to write the book you want to write.

Kiersten White recently did a post on the most sought-after information in our industry, the so-called Secret to Getting Published. And her advice was "Write the best book you can. Write it as best as you can". And you know what? You can't do that if you're trying to please everyone but the person who is in an extended relationship with the story. If you're going to eat, breathe and sleep with this thing, you have to not only like it, you have to love it. And if you're sacrificing everything you want and love in a story to do that, it's not going to go anywhere.

And again, I'll stress that it's all about balance.

Just like emotional and descriptive scenes, action scenes tend to get repetitive. And I think this is where the adventure and thriller novels have lost readers' faith. You can't constantly rehash the same conversation without rubbing people up the wrong way, just like you can't apply cinematic storytelling to all of your action sequences. 
Films are not the same as novels. As someone who makes both, I can honestly tell you that if you try to translate one into the other, you're going to lose a certain je nais sais quoi. And you'll bore your reader. Can you imagine reading Rosie Huntington-Whitely screaming "SAAAAAAM" every ten pages, separated by the same enormous robots jeering at one another and destroying the city a la Godzilla? No? Well, neither can your reader. And that's why those cinematic adrenaline rushes don't satisfy your reader - it just makes them want to hurl your book across the room with significant force.

Action and suspense and thrill will only incite actual adrenaline if your reader feels the stakes are relevant, if they care about the stakes. And in YA, it's all about how your audience is struggling for their identity. Your novel has to be an outlet for them. They need the thrill of watching people hunt demons and fall in love, or figure out conspiracy in the middle of a space opera, or fend off spiders and neo-Nazis while climbing to the centre of the Earth.

We haven't seen the end of action-oriented stories in YA. Not at all. But it's important that we see how inexorably it's entwined with how our characters discover their sense of worth.

How about you? Please yourself or please your future readers? How do you find the balance between character growth and action-oriented storytelling?

The Thursday Thrill!



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Warning: this post will include a lot of celebratory gifs. Like, a lot.

I'm hyperactive and confused and exhausted and sore and hungry and just - I'm finished. The HSC. High school. I'm finished. As of 2 o'clock this afternoon. My final exam on Art Criticism and History was finished.

And so, I'm also back.

To commemorate this occasion, I thought I'd make a post of all the things that are absolutely thrilling me about YA and publishing and reading and even my own writing that I am now free to catch up on. (Ugh, free. I love that word.) Anyway, all the things to come!

Releases of very late 2012 and of 2013:

First and foremost: I just ordered Days of Blood and Starlight and omfgwhateven I have to wait three weeks until I can read it but it's worth it and aksf;akhjsfljasbfa.snf;     ...Basically.

In my catch up searching, I very quickly (and excitedly) came across Antigoddess on Goodreads, the upcoming offering from Kendare Blake (of Anna Dressed In Blood fame, which admittedly, I haven't read). But oh my goodness it looks scrumptious! It's a new Greek god trilogy slated for September 2013. Here be the omfg worthy synopsis:

Old Gods never die…

Or so Athena thought. But then the feathers started sprouting beneath her skin, invading her lungs like a strange cancer, and Hermes showed up with a fever eating away his flesh. So much for living a quiet eternity in perpetual health.

Desperately seeking the cause of their slow, miserable deaths, Athena and Hermes travel the world, gathering allies and discovering enemies both new and old. Their search leads them to Cassandra—an ordinary girl who was once an extraordinary prophetess, protected and loved by a god.

These days, Cassandra doesn’t involve herself in the business of gods—in fact, she doesn’t even know they exist. But she could be the key in a war that is only just beginning.

Because Hera, the queen of the gods, has aligned herself with other of the ancient Olympians, who are killing off rivals in an attempt to prolong their own lives. But these anti-gods have become corrupted in their desperation to survive, horrific caricatures of their former glory. Athena will need every advantage she can get, because immortals don’t just flicker out.

Every one of them dies in their own way. Some choke on feathers. Others become monsters. All of them rage against their last breath.

The Goddess War is about to begin.

Good, right? Ooph, my heart. September, y u so far away?

What else have I got? Well, have you heard of Victoria Schwab's The Archived? If you haven't, well, all I can do is 1) Goodreads, and 2) the first line of the synopsis is: Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Yeah, I know. Amazeballs.

And have you come across this debutante: April Genevieve Tucholke? Her YA debut Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea looks absolutely fantastic! Have a look on Goodreads and on April's site. It's all the devil personified in one of those droopy-eyed, swoon-worthy boys who doze in the sun and it's all gothic horror and my goodness! Could I be more excited?

Film/TV

D-Craig and Ben Whishaw in Skyfall alone is enough to make me go aksng;kasngajsbg.jkasnfnaklsnf (I know, this post isn't turning out to be particularly coherent, huh?) But I've already told my family I'll be living at the movie theatre. There's Red Dawn, Pitch Perfect, Rise of the Guardians, the Hobbit, Gangster Squad, Django Unchained, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

And please, someone tell me they're watching Arrow so I can gush with them. Stephen Amell, I want to rub my face on your face is fantastic as Ollie Queen. I'm loving this show, its acting, its writing - it is just generally very, very good. And besides, DC superheroes? You can't go wrong.

Writing

I can feel the rust on my writing folders, it's been so long since I was actually working on them. I'm undertaking Nanowrimo, as I usually do, and integrating aspects of my old work into a new one: The Girl in Jupiter's Tomb.

I feel like I've developed a fuller perspective over the last six months, which I hope will translate into my writing. The work I've done with short stories in particular has really made me appreciate the economy of language and lyricism of storytelling. Who knows? Maybe I'll craft a version of this story that I can fall in love with.

Now over to you.

What's been going on with you guys lately? Any good reads or views? How's your writing going?

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