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You, Too, Can Write Crap

// Author: Jordan Locke // 8 Comments

As writers, we have a lot of fears. Will the story grab the reader? Is the prose too purple or too gray? Is my writing up to snuff?

While crafting our story, we get bogged down with details. We need to have everything perfect. Sometimes, we can’t move on until we get this chapter right. This scene. This sentence. Always wondering — is my writing good enough? It can be paralyzing.

While working on my last manuscript, I had a bout of writer’s block. It happens to us all at one point or another. I was feeling down on myself, thinking every sentence sucked. This book isn’t as good as the last, I thought. My writing is getting worse, not better. Finally, I said to heck with it.

I gave myself permission to write crap.

I finished the draft. Yes, it needed a lot of work. At 37,000 words, it was way too short. There were parts that were just awful. But it was finished. And you know what? Along with the trash, there were some good parts. Maybe even some great parts. And if I hadn’t let myself just write, I’d have had nothing.

So if the muse has taken the day off, if you’re caught in a word jam, give yourself permission to write crap. You’ll be glad you did.

Tell me in the comments section: How do you get out of a slump (writing or otherwise)?

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Where Have All the Boy Books Gone?

// Author: Jordan Locke // 13 Comments

I recently walked into the YA section of a well-known bookstore. To my surprise (and somewhat dismay), most of the covers featured pretty young girls, many in frilly dresses. If I was a teenage boy, right or wrong, I’d probably be embarrassed to be standing there. Man, where have all the boy books (or at least gender-neutral books) gone?

I write books for teens. Some I think are geared more toward boys. Others, girls would like more. But all of them could be enjoyed by either.

Now, it’s been said that boys don’t read teen fiction, and I’m sure the statistics support it. But I wonder: is it the chicken or the egg? Are there fewer boy books because boys don’t read YA, or do boys rarely read teen books because most are marketed to girls?

There has been a fair amount of talk on the internet lately about gender neutrality in YA covers. Some authors insist that if they were a male, their cover would not have had hearts plastered on it or a frilly pink dress. You know, they’re probably right.

When or if one of my books is sold, the publishing house might want to genderize it. And I’ve heard that oftentimes the author has little-to-no say on the title and cover. Will I be okay with a girl in a fuchsia ball gown? I won’t know for sure until I cross that lipstick-covered bridge. I might be so ecstatic that I’ll do anything they ask. But in the back of my mind, I’ll be wondering: Will a teenage boy pick this up?

Tell me in the comment section: Do you think there are enough books for boys?

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It’s All About Motivation

// Author: Jordan Locke // 1 Comment

In my last post, I spoke about getting to know your characters and mentioned that character development is something I’ve had to work hard at. Characters should be well rounded, not flat or cliché. They should have distinct personalities, but not so overstated that they are cartoonish. We’re talking subtleties here.

To be honest, I haven’t always maintained consistent personalities in my characters. As I mentioned, I’m a plot-first writer, so when I wrote the opening chapter of my current novel (now the fifth chapter), Grace, one of my protagonists, was spunky and fairly confident. Unfortunately, towards the middle, she often acted shy and uncertain.

Don’t get me wrong, your characters (especially the main characters) can and should change. The most memorable protagonists in fiction have strong character arcs. The key is motivation. Without a good reason for Grace to start acting all whiny and worried, the sudden shift in behavior seems odd. Plus, it’s not the arc I intended.

To further complicate things, while working through recent critique notes, I gave Grace a social disorder. Yes, I get to play God when I write, and I thought this fit the story well. She’s already a bit standoffish, and her mother left when she was young, so this isn’t a stretch, but I had to show more signs of the disorder, especially in the beginning. The revision works well because she inadvertently discovers the doctor’s diagnosis, which forces her to evaluate her behavior, prompting her to change. Hence, the motivation.

There are many ways to elicit change. Putting your character through a series of tragedies can work. Another popular solution is to have your character constantly use the same one-sided approach and keep failing, making her reevaluate her methods.

However you do it, the transformation must be believable. Remember, it’s all about motivation.

Tell me in the comment section: How do you make sure your characters have the proper motivation.

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Getting to Know Your Characters

// Author: Jordan Locke // 5 Comments

Some writers develop their characters before they start writing the novel. They fill out personality questionnaires for their villain-to-be, conduct interviews with their nonexistent heroine and paste look-alike pictures of their protagonist’s love interest on their walls. When they sit down to write, they know their characters like their own sister.

I do none of this.

Yes, I’m a plot-first kind of writer. For good or for bad, I learn about my characters as I write. Sure, I have a basic idea of what they look like and what type of person they are—shy, pessimistic, humorous. But the finer details—backstory, eye color, what they eat for breakfast—are fleshed out as I tell the story. This means they are less developed in the beginning of the draft than towards the end, and it means I must go back and ensure their personalities are consistent throughout the story. More work for me, right?

Maybe, maybe not.

Sure, there are disadvantages to this way of writing, but it also gives me more freedom. If I discover, halfway through my draft, that the story will work better with a moody, flirtatious bookworm than a happy-go-lucky car salesman, I’m not so married to my characters that I’m reluctant to change them.

Now, I’m certainly not saying my way is best. To be honest, character development was one of my weakest skills when I started writing and the one I’ve had to work hardest at. I have to be especially careful that my characters have distinct, believable personalities and that the color of their eyes doesn’t change halfway through the book. In the end, though, writing before I fully know my characters merely means discovery comes at a different point in the process. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I know and love my characters any less.

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Talent vs. Hard Work

// Author: Jordan Locke // 17 Comments

Writers get asked the question all the time: Do you think talent or hard work is more important to success? In my case, the answer is obvious. It’s definitely hard work.

I never considered myself a good writer. Math and art were my strong subjects in school. Writing? It may have been my weakest.

When a scene popped into my head ten years ago, I thought it could make a good movie, or maybe even a book. After jotting down four pages, I stuck it in a drawer. Writing wasn’t really my thing.

Seven years ago, I was driving home from work, listening to WNPR, as the radio host read the first paragraph from one of her favorite novels. It got me thinking, how would mine start? One idea led to two. Two led to four. The ideas multiplied.

I had to write them down. I needed to write them down. Within weeks, I had a hundred handwritten pages—the entire plot.

I hit the computer. Word by word, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, I wrote. Within three months, I had a finished draft.

It was awful.

The thing is, I had no delusions. I knew it was bad. If I was going to get it in shape, I needed to learn everything I could about writing. Instructional books and blogs—even a professional editor—taught me all about the craft of writing. I applied those lessons to my manuscript. A year later, it was better. Much better. I sent out queries and opening pages to agents. And guess what?

No takers. Not even a nibble.

I am nothing if not persistent. I studied the craft, read more inside and outside of my genre, went to conferences and kept writing. Five novels and hundreds of rejections later, I finally got an offer of representation from a top agent. Two, actually.

Even now, I’m not the world’s best speller. My first drafts are a mess. But I’m learning. Always learning.

I’m sure some would disagree with me (my agent being one of them), but I’m telling you, I am not talented. Hard work got me where I am. If you’re going to make it as a writer, you’re going to have to work at it.

So get to work!

Tell me in the comments section: Do you think talent or hard work wins the day?

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