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Friday 5 – All about my irrational fears and more.

1. I’m flying to Colorado next week with my daughter to visit my parents’ old stomping grounds. And I’m slightly terrified. The plane ride will be long and I get airsick. #sonotfun In Colorado, which I hear is a humongous state, I might be driving on hairpin roads and I get carsick. #myvalidexcusetodrive Or we might have to drive hours to get anywhere. Will I be in a rental car, clinging to my barf bag the whole trip? #hopenot

2. With the two hour time difference I’m really not quite sure if my layover is close to two hours or more like ten minutes.

3. I’m kind of excited to use the word tennis shoe instead of sneakers. Is that what they call sneakers out there? And I’m hoping it truly is bright and sunny all the time, which Twitter has led me to believe. #twitterbetterberight

4. I’ll be happy to have my Kindle, which will be loaded with Imaginary Girls. I downloaded several samples of new releases and the opening of this story really drew me in.  #openingsaremoreimportantthanever  I also have Tremble, the second book of a terrific Indy series by Addison Moore. Ethereal was the first book. #lovedtheplottwists #youwilltoo I’ll have the paper back of Lemonade Mouth by Mark Peter Hughes, which my daughter loved! #thatsaysalot #she’saliterarysnob

5. I’ve read two books lately that I just absolutely loved. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Loved everything about it. Loved. Loved. Loved. And Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt, a more literary MG but incredibly written and full of emotion. (Okay, the title and cover aren’t that great but don’t let that fool you.)

On that note, dear friends, I must take leave of you for a couple weeks. I’ll be in Colorado. I wish you sunny weather, writing that flows like the rainwater down my street right now, and many sticky watermelon memories. I’ll catch up with everyone when I get back! Ciao (which for the longest time I thought was pronounced see-ow and now my friends make fun of me all the time.)

What are your plans for the summer? Read any good books lately?

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Friday 5 – How to write a rockin’ sequel.

This week we’ve look at HEX HALL by Rachel Hawkins. And if these posts, here and here, didn’t convince you to read this book. Then just you wait. Read on.

1. The sequel should be fatter.

Seriously. I don’t want to buy a sequel to find the book is smaller and thinner than the first. For some reason, I feel wronged. If a reader liked your book enough to buy the second that means they like you! And your writing. So make it fatter – with substance of course.

DEMON GLASS, the sequel to Hex Hall, was definitely fatter. Yay!

2. Introduce a new setting or change up the setting.

I might love your first book, but that doesn’t mean I want to read it again in the sequel. (Unless it’s awesome like Hogwarts. But let’s not pretend we’re J.K. Rowling.) Follow the writing advice to surprise your reader with the unexpected. But a word of warning: the setting has to be just as awesome or more awesome than the setting in the first.

In DEMON GLASS, Sophie moves to London. Can you say awesome? A private boarding school for wayward paranormals was pretty cool. But London? Way cooler.

3. Introduce new characters.

Okay, I do want some familiar characters, like a best friend or a love interest. But, yeah, I mostly want a new and more interesting cast that outshines the first. Characters I loved from the first book will become a little old and boring in the sequel.

In DEMON GLASS, Sophie’s best friend goes to London too. And of course, Archer, the love interest is there. But we get to meet her dad! Who was an incredible character with lots of mystery. And we meet two new peers who leave us wondering if they are good or bad.

4. A new villain/antagonist is a must! And a new story conflict.

I’m sorry, but if the villain from your first book makes a comeback in the second novel, or was never really vanquished in the first – that’s just kinda lame. I don’t mean to be harsh. But you want your sequel to propel you onto the bestseller list, not leave your readers doubting you. (Please no pointing out Voldemort. J.K. had a more prominent and different antagonist in every book.)

And DEMON GLASS succeeds in this area too. That’s all I’m going to say.

5. Go bigger. Bigger stakes. Bigger external and internal conflict.

Just like stakes rise in a novel, so stakes must rise in a trilogy. Each book should have a bigger impact than the first. Seeds of backstory, plot threads, and any foreshadowing from the first book should blossom in the sequel.

What can I say about this sequel? The last third of the book was incredible. Everything went bigger. External plot. Internal character arc. The stakes. The love story. The father-daughter relationship. Sacrifices made. You’ve got to read it. Here’s an example from the book, of Sophie’s thoughts on Archer: ‘…everyone I knew wanted to kill him, and everyone he knew wanted to kill me.’

So, if you want to know how to write a sequel that rocks and will draw more fans and possibly send you to the bestseller list? Well, than you can guess my advice. (Read DEMON GLASS)

Have you read any good sequels? Share. What else is a must for you in a sequel? Or do you totally disagree with me?

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Friday 5 – How to rise above cliche.

Anything cliché means death to a writer.  #atinybitmelodramatic #notreally

For the longest time, I assumed cliché just referred to certain phrases, like fast as lightning or slow as a turtle. But I was wrong.

1. Premise

Editors, agents, and readers are all looking for that unique story that sweeps them off their feet. #cliche None of us want a tired plot, one that has been redone to death. For example the girl and the paranormal love triangle. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write that. It just means it has to be really, really good with a unique angle. And isn’t breaking into publishing hard enough?

Solution: Don’t stop at the first idea. Keep making those lists and twisting those plots until you’ve got something all your own.

2. Character

For me, there are two different levels of a clichéd character.

First, there is the stereotyped character: jock, cheerleader, hottie bad boy, geek. Not that we can’t use these kinds of characters. But as with plot, the approach must be different and written well.

Second, there is the one-dimensional character. This character has no depth and comes across unbelievable.  And because of the lack of depth comes across cliché. #notgood

Solution: Make character charts. Give the character relationships with secondary characters that have goals and troubles too. Build in world details. Create a primal internal arc with a universal struggle that any reader can connect with. Dig deep.

3. Plot

Don’t make your plot points predictable. With this, the reader can see what’s coming pages before it happens. Surprise the reader!

Solution: Donald Maass break out tips are great for creating turning points that no one expects. And usually, it comes back to character and having them make the choices that no one expects.

4. Villains

Cliché villains have the black twirly mustache and evil laughs. Or they could be the mean girl or the bully. They have no soft side and are there just to cause trouble for the protagonists with very little reason. In other words, they are 2 dimensional and are only there to further your plot.

Solution: Give your villain a save the cat scene. Show his/her softer side. Pretend the villain is the hero – what does he want? Give him plausible and empathetic motivations.

5. The writing

For me, clichéd writing is dull and out of focus. The details are bland or average. Weak verbs. Poor sentence structure or too much of the same structure.

Solution: Use strong verbs. Work hard at creating emotion in the description, setting, and body language by using it to reflect the main character. Vary your sentence structure. And practice, practice, practice.

I’m stopping at five. But anything can be cliché: setting, weather, description… you name it. And the biggest ways to improve is to read, read, read and write, write, write. But to read and write with purpose. Go for it!

Join in our Twitter Game today and share a cliche! Hashtag #writingcliche

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Friday 5 Chaperoning a field trip is like a well-told story.

1. Keep it interesting.

  • Kids will behave on a field trip when the place or the information they are learning is new and interesting. (We attended the historical society in our town and experienced life in the olden days.)
  • Readers will keep reading your book if it is interesting.

2. Keep it feeling new.

  • No matter how interesting the place, if the information being presented becomes repetitive, kids get bored and antsy. (By the 6th presentation, we should’ve made a Dunkin Donuts run #srsly.)
  • No matter how interesting your plotline, if nothing new happens or the character faces the same struggles too many times, readers get restless.

3. Keep it personal.

  • When kids make a personal connection through a personal story that is true, that is what they will remember. (Each child had the identity of someone in our town from two hundred years ago. Real people. And they learned about that person’s life.)
  • When a reader connects with a character through the external and internal conflict and theme, the story will stay with them.

4. Keep changing up the setting.

  • A change up in scenery does wonders for interest level. (After getting lectured in the school house and watching yarn spun into wool and then cooking by the hearth, the field games with a fresh breeze was a welcome relief for everyone.)
  • Create different settings within your story, such as not always being in the car or by the lockers or in the bedroom. Your reader will love you and not even know why.

5. Keep it powerful.

  • Rewarding a long day with surprises in a timely manner is what the kids remember. (One mom spent all morning making an awesome lunch for the kids with apple crisp for dessert. She made special sandwiches for the volunteers. I swear I’ve never had a better ham sandwich.)
  • End your story well without drawing it out too long and you will earn fans.

Where do you find comparisons to writing or a well told story?

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Friday 5 (or 8) Mega tips and facts from the conference.

I walked away with a whole bunch of information, new friendships, and a whirlwind of revision ideas to apply to my work. But here are some of the highlights.

1. The kidlit writing community totally rocks.

2. Most series start out as one book and slowly build from there. So leave some open- ended plot lines and unanswered questions that can be developed down the road. Just in case.

3. R.L. Stine wrote all his books with his pointer finger.  #Arthritisanyone?

4. Elision is a fancy MFA term that just means subtext. Okay it might mean a bit more than that but its using sensory details, body language etc. to create the illusion of reality. #fancytalk

5. When speaking or writing, if you get emotionally indulgent and go on about yourself or your character and stray off topic, you lose the interest of your reader/listener.

6. To succeed means to fail. Even successful authors have had the plug pulled on a series that didn’t make it.  #encouraging

7. The only way to get published and reach your dreams is to DO THE WORK.

8. Never go to a conference that does not sell Starbucks in the lobby.

Obviously some were more serious than others. I mean not having excellent coffee at a writer’s conference is like breaking the first commandment. And some of those tips I could write a blog post on. #nextweekmaybe

If you go to conferences, what are the two biggest reasons you attend?

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