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Male Characters: Confident or Reserved?

// Author: Jordan Locke // 5 Comments

I posed this question on Twitter a few weeks ago: Do you like male leads who are confident and impulsive, or do you prefer them to be sensitive and reserved? The responses showed that some prefer the former while others prefer the latter. The majority of responders, however, prefer the male lead to display aspects of both.

One bit of advice writers often hear: write what you know. I was reserved in high school, unsure of myself. I have gained some confidence over the years, but that awkward kid is still inside me.

In the first book I wrote, the lead was shy, quiet and introspective, and many of the main characters in my stories display these traits. But these are not the only types of characters I write. In a recent novel, the main male character is rebellious and sometimes a little obnoxious. This is not me. But if I’m going to develop as a writer, I have to push myself outside of my comfort zone.

Another bit of writing advice: your characters should grow as a person. A meek woman gains strength and confidence. An overbearing, cocky guy learns a bit of humility. We writers call it a character arc.

Take The Only Boy for example. Taylor starts off as awkward and timid. By the end of the book, however, he is changed by the events and by a desire to right the wrongs and stop the antagonist from hurting any more people.

Whether your writing a reserved male lead or a rebellious one, it’s important to make them well rounded. None of us are simple creatures. Seems as though few people want to read about a stereotype.

Tell me in the comment section: What type of male lead do you prefer?

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Not Your Typical Love Story

// Author: Jordan Locke // 10 Comments

My books tend to have intricate plots and a lot of complications. Oftentimes the characters are put in uncomfortable situations, such as being forced to relocate, grieving a loss or being pursued by the protagonist, which can make romance problematic. This may be their first real relationship, even their first kiss. Jumping full speed into a love scene makes little sense.

I’ll use The Hunger Games for example. The relationship between Katniss and Peeta is complicated, to say the least. They are fighting for their lives, and on camera to boot. It makes perfect sense that their kissing scene is awkward and their relationship strained.

In my novel The Only Boy, Taylor is hiding his identity. He’s lost his family and friends. He’s been thrown into an unfamiliar and potentially hostile environment. Add to this the fact that he’s never really had a girlfriend, and I’m sure you can see how new relationships would be difficult.

Mary, his love interest, is strong-willed. With only women living in her compound and with a constant fear of disease, interactions are discouraged, even forbidden. She has never even met a boy and is confused by her feelings for Taylor. This often leads to misunderstandings and, at times, distrust.

Mary and Taylor’s relationship is far from perfect. They have different upbringings and conflicting desires. They aren’t always nice to each other. Oftentimes, they act in ways that may come off as cold or even mean. In my opinion, this makes them more real.

If you’re looking for a breezy romance, where everything is flowers and fireworks from the start, The Only Boy may not be right for you. If you enjoy complicated stories, however, books in which the characters have to work through their problems and fight for their right to be together, maybe you should give The Only Boy a look.

Tell me in the comment section: Do you prefer books with complex relationships?

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How I Created the Cover for The Only Boy

// Author: Jordan Locke // 31 Comments

At the risk of demystifying the illusion, I’m going to reveal the process I went through while designing the cover for my novel. As I mentioned, I’m an artist by trade and went to school for graphic design.

For the longest time, when I thought of how the cover might look, I pictured rows of females and only one male. I drew this in Illustrator, a program for making line art and logos:

only boy cover1

The graphic image was too modern for a post-apocalyptic novel, and I thought a weathered look would give it the feel I was looking for. There were plenty of pictures of old paper on iStock to choose from. The textured type was created by heightening the contrast in Photoshop, selecting the fragments from the design and removing them. With the old paper added as a background, this is what the original design looked like:

only boy cover

I liked it well enough, but I figured adding an actual boy might give it a more human touch. I searched iStock again for a photo, but the boys were either too young or too old or not the look I’d envisioned. Then I found this guy:

boy

In the beginning of the book, Taylor has a tan, but as you see, the boy in the photo is awfully pale. I tried darkening the skin, but he looked a bit odd, so I ended up deepening it and saturating it just a bit. This boy has hazel eyes, while Taylor has blue, so I changed the eye color and slightly enlarged them:

side by side

I needed a pair of hands, but the boy in the picture had them in his pockets, so I found a different iStock image of someone holding a piece of paper:

young man holding a blank billboard isolated on white background

I carefully cropped out the hands, adjusted the color to match and added them to the image. Finally, the background was changed to black (which involved a lot of masking). All in all, I’m happy with the result.

TheOnlyBoy

Tell me in the comment section: what do you think of the cover for The Only Boy?

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How I Came Up With the Idea for The Only Boy

// Author: Jordan Locke // 12 Comments

Usually, soon after I finish one novel, the idea for another comes, as if my mind automatically kick-starts in a new direction.

The concept for The Only Boy came a few weeks after watching the movie Children of Men. If you haven’t seen it or read the book, the gist is that babies have stopped being born, for some inexplicable reason, and the youngest living person is now an adult. This got me wondering what a world with only women would be like. How would they reproduce? Could they develop a technique to combine DNA from women to make more women?

After many years, centuries even, perhaps the women would no longer want men around? Maybe they would blame them for the disease that nearly wiped out humanity.

Introducing a boy into the mix would make the story more interesting, make the plot more complicated. Some of the women would want him dead. He would have to hide his identity.

I needed characters. Taylor, the only living boy, has just lost his family and friends, everyone he knew. Mary is an inquisitive girl with a yearning to learn more about life before the disease. The Matriarch, the figurehead for the group, is obsessed with making sure men never return. I tossed them together to see what would happen.

Of course, I thought the idea was totally original, but soon after I finished The Only Boy, I learned that the concept (just one living male) had been done before, in a comic book and a made-for-TV movie. It seems there are no new ideas, or at least very few of them. How many vampire books have been written? Avatar follows the same basic plot as Fern Gulley. Cinderella has been rehashed countless times.

A fresh take, however, can bring new life to the story. I haven’t seen the aforementioned comic book or made-for-TV movie, but I’m fairly sure The Only Boy is unique. Hopefully, my novel stands on its own. If you get a chance to read it, let me know.

Tell me in the comment section: how do you come up with ideas?

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I’m Going to Be Published…Self, That Is

// Author: Jordan Locke // 23 Comments

My last post talked about the difficulty with determining what is good writing, especially when it comes to my own. Well, I had a bit of an epiphany.

I’d been going through a novel I wrote a couple of years ago, the one that got me my agent. And you know what I discovered?

This book is pretty darn good.

Although we had some close calls, my agent, truly wonderful as she is, wasn’t able to sell it. There are a number of reasons. The market for dystopian novels was starting to wane, for one. Another is probably just dumb luck. And finally, it could have been because my writing isn’t up to snuff.

I’m through doubting myself, though. Damn it, this book is good enough for publication.

Yes. I’m going to publish it myself.

I’ve discussed the decision with my agent, and although she’s reluctant to give it up, just in case a publisher might have wanted to buy it down the road, she gave me her blessing.

I know the odds. The market for self-published books is super crowded. It’s nearly impossible to break out. But I’m going to give it my best try.

Being a designer as well as a writer, I have been formatting the book and creating the cover. Look for The Only Boy coming soon.

Tell me in the comment section: do you think I made the right decision?

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What is Good Writing, Anyway?

// Author: Jordan Locke // 8 Comments

When I wrote my first novel, I had no way of knowing if it was awesome or pure rubbish. I showed it to a few people to get their opinions, and they told me my writing was good.

But I had close relationships with these people. I’m sure they wanted to give me encouragement; they weren’t going to tell me I sucked. And even if they truly liked my story, they weren’t editors or agents, or even writers.

The first real test was when I queried agents. Their responses would give me some hint of whether I was any good, I thought. Well, every agent rejected me. Standard rejection letters, no real feedback on my writing. Agents have hundreds of queries from wantabe writers to shift through every week. They have clients to serve, editors to woo. They don’t have time to critique every author.

With no requests, no feedback and only one novel under my belt, I figured my writing wasn’t quite ready for prime time. So, I studied the craft and kept writing. Five years later, for my fifth book, I received two offers of representation from well-respected agents. I assume that means my writing is good, right?

I still don’t know.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. Generally, I enjoyed my classes, but one frustration stemmed from how to determine what is good art and what is mediocre. You’ve all seen a Jackson Pollack (paint splatters on canvas) or Picasso’s Seated Woman (a portrait broken into pieces). I like both painter’s works, but even though I’m an artist by trade, I can’t tell you why these paintings are good, why the artists are considered masters. When my professor preferred one student’s abstract sculpture over another’s, did that make it better? It’s just her opinion, right?

Truth is, art is subjective.

Honestly, it’s impossible for me to know for sure how good my writing is. I can be fairly confident my final draft is better than my first draft and that my most recent book is better than the first one I wrote, but whether my work is high-quality stuff, I can’t tell.

While writing my last novel, I questioned whether it was good enough. When in the middle of the writing process, I’m too close to the work to know. My colleague said she really liked it, but she also had tons of suggestions on how to fix it. After revisions, I sent it to my agent, who told me it was really solid, said it was great. I still had doubts. Then I sent it to a couple of friends for final proofing and got glowing reviews. Okay, maybe it is good, after all.

Than again, others may disagree.

I have read some award-winning novels that I just don’t get. The author ignores so many of the rules. Repetitive words. Improper punctuation. Nonexistent plot. And to be honest, I didn’t find these books particularly interesting. Not my thing, I guess.

Then, there are those novels that take me away. The writing is heartbreakingly beautiful. Or the plot is so absorbing that I can’t put the book down. Who wouldn’t find this pure genius?

In the end, neither agent nor publisher nor critic can tell you if a book is good. Only you can decide for yourself if something is worth reading. I may or may not agree with you.

Tell me in the comment section: how do you determine if a book is good?

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This Thing Called Voice

// Author: Jordan Locke // 11 Comments

Back when I was working on my first novel, after I had something loosely resembling a draft, I thought I’d better learn about the craft. While reading a book on writing, I discovered the term voice. According to some well-respected experts, voice is the be-all-end-all of why an agent decides to offer representation.

I wondered, what is this voice thing, anyway? Why use the word when referring to writing? Voice is speaking. Writing is, well, something else.

Of course, in a way, writing is speaking on paper. Back before books were invented, cavemen would tell stories by the campfire for hours. Some were made up, I’m sure, while others were passed down through generations.

Well, if voice is so important, and you happen to be a great storyteller, why not just record yourself and transcribe it? No need to edit draft after draft, right?

Wrong.

Consider some of the most engaging speakers on the planet. Do you think they just walked up to the podium and started talking? No. They, and their speechwriters, went through many drafts. They worked for weeks to get the wording perfect. And, of course, they all had lots of practice and years of study. The best speakers have fine-tuned their voice.

A novel is even harder to write. It needs to engage the reader for many hours. The plot has to follow a logical path, the characters must be fully developed, and the writing needs to be crisp rather than a meandering mess. Those first words put down on paper are probably not ready for publication.

Of course, voice is subjective. What one agent loves, another will find too flowery or too stark.

My writing has evolved over the years. The first and second books I wrote were intended for adults. I realized, though, that my voice is geared more toward a younger audience. I tend to write shorter novels, shorter chapters and shorter sentences. Honestly, the vocabulary I use is more limited than most adult writers. Also, I had what I thought was a killer idea for a teen novel, and I enjoy writing to a younger crowd.

My writing voice is not my natural speaking voice. I have read many books on writing and tend to follow the advice. My first drafts are mostly rubbish. Only by polishing and re-polishing can I create something remotely readable.

While talking to a friend of mine, I mentioned how much effort it takes to make writing sound casual, like the words had come easily from my mouth. It seems counterintuitive, I know, but the more you work at it, the more natural the writing sounds.

For me, at least, writing is not merely speaking on paper. This thing called voice takes work.

Tell me in the comment section, what does voice mean to you?

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On Backstory

// Author: Jordan Locke // 6 Comments

Including backstory in a novel has its drawbacks. It tends to slow the pace and often ends up being a long-winded way to get across information the author deems relevant. Sometimes, poorly placed backstory can even confuse the reader. I’ve read more than one best-selling author that inserted exposition in the middle of dialog, and by the time the conversation ended, I had forgotten what the characters were talking about.

When I include backstory, I tend to write a full-fledged scene—paragraphs or even pages of the protagonist remembering a past event as if it were happening in real time. This, I think, is more engaging than ‘telling’ the reader what happened and can add depth to the character.

Unfortunately, the technique also temporarily breaks the timeline and can slow the momentum. Backstory, by definition, has already taken place, making it less important than the present. Oftentimes, the reader just wants to know what happens next rather than reading about how badly the protagonist was treated as a child.

My current manuscript has fewer flashbacks, and they are much shorter than usual. Instead, I’ve primarily used old letters and reports to introduce past events. This allows the story to unfold in real time as the reader experiences the event along with the character.

As always, there is a tradeoff. What you gain in pace, you can often lose in character development, The key is to understand your protagonist, give hints along the way as to their state of mind and what may have happened in the past. This leaves some mystery and allows the reader to discover the character by putting the puzzle pieces together on their own.

I’m certainly not against backstory. During slower, more reflective points, a well-written flashback can do a lot to round out your a character. Just make sure, however, to avoid slipping into one in the middle of a chase scene, slowing the pace to a halt.

Tell me in the comments section: how do you introduce backstory?

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To Heck With Outlining — For Now

// Author: Jordan Locke // 10 Comments

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a bit of a pantster, meaning I usually have a rough idea of the plot when I start writing, but rather than planning everything out, I fly by the seat of my pants. This can be good for spontaneity. Not too great for keeping everything in line. To make matters worse, I’ll sometimes skip a chapter or merely write a quick summary and move on to the next scene. Oftentimes, the plot is disjointed. I’ll linger too long in one spot and only touch the surface of another. I’ll write the same basic scene more than once.

And I’ll realize—I should have written that outline.

It’s not too late. Even though the novel is done, outlining can help. The process can let you see the big picture and identify where the plot has gone awry. Outlining can show where the tension has evaporated and where there’s too much going on.

I’m going through this process with a book I’d shelved. It has been critiqued and much of the feedback incorporated, but I still feel it’s not quite ready for the world to see. So I’m summarizing each chapter with a few short sentences and looking for those low points and high points. I’m still not sure if I’ll keep working on this manuscript or start a new project, but it’s helping me flush out some of the issues, to figure out where the plot is lagging, identifying those chapters that can be cut and those that might be missing.

So, even if you’re finished with your novel, consider outlining. There’s no reason why it can’t be done after the fact.

Tell me in the comments section: Do you outline, and when.

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