Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Writing a good scare!

Hey guys!

Ah the month of Halloween is upon us! In just 21 days all the spooky and creepy will hit our doorsteps and homes. And I, for one, couldn’t be more excited. This is hands down my favorite holiday of the year. The haunting atmosphere connects with my eerie little W.I.P. So, I wanted to look at some fundamental elements that I think should be in a “good scare” book (just to be clear: this is only my ramblings, no one else’s. Also, I’m talking spooky, not full on horror – though some elements might overlap).

All right, let’s get to it.

When it comes to eerie, one of the first thing I think of is pacing. A spooky book isn’t going to be a languid walk in the park. It’s got to be fast and unpredictable at times, and then at others there needs to be a slow, but ever-increasing tension buildup. This can’t be just your average building of tension. This needs to build a particular atmosphere. It needs to be an increasing “heart in your mouth” feeling. Think about those old horror movies where the girl goes creeping around the house. Cheesy, yes. Effective? Also, yes. Most of us will still hold our breath, even though we know what’s going to happen. It’s human nature. Now, I’m not saying write an old-fashioned cheesy horror (but you can if you want!). What I’m getting at is the variation in pacing should go between these two. You need to build up, then be quick and unpredictable.

So, here’s where I want to build on atmosphere aside from it building your tension. Atmosphere is crucial for a spooky book. You need to decide what kind of atmosphere you want (and I do recommend either doing this before you write your first draft, or doing an entire edit pass focusing on just this aspect.) Are you looking for eerie and peculiar (ala THE ACCIDENT SEASON by Moira Fowley-Doyle) or are you looking for something off-kilter and uncomfortable (ala CORALINE by Neil Gaiman)? Perhaps you’re going for an old-style Goosebumps book, or what about something like ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake? Whatever your choice, you need to think ahead – what makes an eerie tone as opposed to a “hold your breath” tone? Word choice, word choice, word choice. Sentence structure. Choice of details. Be careful in your choices.

Then, of course, there’re characters to talk about. You can have a cast of completely normal characters, of course, but you can up the spook by having odd characters, too. Think about HOW TO HANG A WITCH by Andriana Mather. The Descendants are plain unusual – descended from the witches from the Salem witch trials, all dressed in black, and giving fierce looks, and a closed circle kind of feel.

Plot – well, this one goes without saying. But just a reminder: twists, turns…the unexpected, and the guessing game of who is going to do what. And then you have the “this is weird…what the heck is going on?” And the “is there going to be something terrifying in there?” Choose whatever plot you want, but make sure it keeps the creepy factor throughout!

All right. So, there are many, many more things that can make a novel spooky, but if I try and write them all here, I’ll end up with a book (and I’m not writing non-fiction lol), and there will be plenty that I miss. So this is just my little nook in the web to tell you the main things I look at on my first edit pass when it comes to spooky!

Happy Halloween to come, you guys!!!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Agentopia: Stephanie Hansen

Welcome to the September edition of Agentopia. This month we have Stephanie Hansen from Metamorphosis Literary Agency.

About Stephanie: 

Stephanie represents debut to New York Times bestselling authors. She’s signed authors with small presses to major publishing house distribution. She received her Master’s in 2008 and Creative Writing Specialization in 2017. Predominately she represents YA SF/F but has a secret addiction for romance. While these are her favorite, she handles everything fiction from children’s books to adult thrillers. Previously an editor for Mind’s Eye Literary Magazine, she became a part of Metamorphosis in July 2016. Originally looking to help Midwest authors garner the attention of major publishing houses, despite residing in “flyover states”, she found camaraderie with multiple agents and editors.

What is currently on your wish list?

Currently, romance with fantasy that reads like a movie screen and YA series with a fresh perspective.

What's a personal turn-off in a query which is guaranteed to get the author rejected?

Queries that only contain two sentences. Please include your genre (and sub-genre if applicable), word count, title, name and 2-3 paragraphs describing your story.

Do you google authors and if yes, what are you looking for?  

Yes, I Google authors because I want to see their online presence (while not necessary, it's very beneficial).

Follow Stephanie on Twitter @hansenwriter

Two authors Stephanie represents recently signed with publishing houses! These are:

Laura M. Snider signed WITCHES' QUARTERS with Clear Fork Publishing. https://twitter.com/MetamorphLitAg/status/902906236525568003

Paul McGowan signed DAWN OF THE REAPER with the Fire & Ice YA imprint. https://twitter.com/MetamorphLitAg/status/903096539580698626

Friday, September 22, 2017

Villainous Struggles

Writing villains might come easy to some people, but creating a well-rounded, believable, (hopefully charismatic) villain is something I have to put a lot of careful thought and planning into. Protagonists and love interests often jump into my mind fully-formed, like Athena popping from Zeus’ head, but villains evade me. I think it is because for so long, I put my characters into categories such as those I just mentioned: protagonists, love interests, family members, friends and villains. And the reason why my villains just weren’t working was because I was treating them as such.

That’s when I realized…


So, you know that sexist, pig-headed idiot who just hollered at you when you walked past them? In their head, they’re not the villain of that situation. They will go back home to their own story with their own justifications (however misguided) for shouting at people on the street. There are millions of personalities in this world, but most people don’t go around believing they’re evil. No one does evil deeds for evil’s sake. Take Voldemort, for example, who is pretty evil in my opinion… even old Voldy has a tragic past and quite a sad story following him into adulthood. He has reasons for believing the things he does and has been shaped by the events that have befallen him. OK so his twisted personality has meant that those events have turned him into a no-nosed, back-of-Quirrell’s-head weirdo, but the point is that we, the reader, understand to a degree what contributed to Voldemort’s villainy.

Many of the most iconic villains in books and TV have their own stories, which is what makes them so engaging to the reader/watcher. Having someone do ‘bad things’ isn’t enough to make your reader want to see their demise – we want to know their goals so we can rejoice when they’re scuppered, and their reasons for being the way they are so we can understand them in a sense.

Another brilliant example of this is Cersei from Game of Thrones. I won’t give away any spoilers, but we can all agree that Cersei is an awful human being. She has done atrocities that definitely place her in the ‘evil’ category. However, she is so damn interesting! She loves her children and family and puts them above all others, and is completely unapologetic about this fact. Despite her fortunate upbringing in terms of being ‘born well’, she has been discriminated against her whole life because of her gender, being forced to marry someone she despised instead of inheriting anything of her own right. Cersei has suffered hardships in her life, and therefore we understand why she has hardened into the person she is, even if we hate her!

When it comes to writing your villain, I would think of the word ‘antagonist’ instead, which derives from the Greek tragedy Antigone. Antigone is actually the protagonist of her own story, but she is seen to Creon as an antagonist as she doesn’t want to obey his rules and goes against his goals. This shows that your antagonist doesn’t have to be ‘bad’, they just need to want to stop the protaganist from reaching their goals.

Essentially, writing a good baddie is just like writing your goodie – you need to know who they are, what their history is, why they act the way they do and what they want to achieve.

Make us hate them. Make us understand them. Make us love to hate them. And make us rejoice when your protagonist triumphs over them.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Let's Get Real About Villains

Writing villains is a tricky subject for YA writers. Some people might think they should be humanized while others might think they should be shown for what they are. Most people are complex and have layers in real life. But the truth is a villain’s cruelty and misdeeds shouldn’t be diminished while still showing they have some depth.

Let’s tackle the villain’s cruelty and misdeeds aspect first. Not diminishing what a villain does is important. One pop culture example is the villain Klaus from The Vampire Diaries. He has killed multiple people, and generally has no regard for human life (Klaus is a hybrid, which means he’s half vampire and half werewolf). But his character is eventually watered down and shown as less extreme. Doing so is a mistake. Life might not be black and white, yet labels can sometimes be helpful. And that applies to writing. A villain’s treachery shouldn’t be erased just because her or she might be attractive.

Having some depth is still important for villains, though. But that doesn’t mean a villain gets a magical blank slate at some point. For instance, I have the villain care about her sister in one of my YA Fantasy novels. Although that doesn’t erase the villain’s behavior. Her dynamic with her sister exists only to show she isn’t one dimensional.

There’s one last aspect that should be mentioned with villains. They can’t have all the victories. That means a hero needs an occasional victory that just doesn’t happen at the end of the book, episode, or movie. People complain about a hero possibly not having enough conflict and things coming too easily. Well, the same idea applies to villains. Things shouldn’t be too easy for them because they shouldn’t have all the fun.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Book Release Tips

My debut novel, Betrayal of the Band, released in August. Yay! Through the last month, I discovered a few marketing successes that caught me by surprise, and I wanted to share.
First off, marketing is not a strong area of mine, since it requires talking to strangers. Strangers who might reject you. But with the help of family and friends who love me (more than I expected!), I’ve managed to do some successful marketing. 
  1. A Local Press Release. When the book officially released on August 11, a friend wrote a press release for me. Totally unexpected, and not something I’d even considered. She sent the release into the paper and the news stations. The paper printed it the following week, and I was invited to attend an authors’ day at an education conference happening in October and received a congratulations postcard from the Friends of a local library. Also, the press release included two book signing events I had scheduled, and a local bookstore owner attended one to invite me to do a signing or event at his store. So notifying local news agency of a release can generate marketing opportunities!
  2. Book Signings. Bookstores are the obvious ones, but depending on your publisher, Barnes and Noble or other big booksellers may not be an option. But bookstores aren’t the only places to sell books. Local businesses like to be involved in their community, and you, a local author, are a member of the community, a really awesome member of the community because you actually wrote and published a book. Don’t confine book signings or selling to bookstores only. If your community has a First Friday or other regular event where businesses stay open later and/or offer special events to entice customers, ask about doing a signing there. If the book features a tea drinker, talk to a local tea shop. If the book features a musician, talk to music stores. Get creative. Readers don’t only shop at bookstores.
  3. A Party. Throw a party and celebrate your accomplishment! This party can be big or small, real or online. Whatever kind of budget or resources you have, use them to invite everyone who has support you and encouraged you and gotten excited for you to help celebrate. I don’t know if the party I hosted was a big success as far as marketing and sales go, but the event was a boost for me, and a chance to celebrate with people I love while also introducing a few new readers to my book. And any opportunity that involves cupcakes and prizes has to fun for everyone.
What about you? Any book release and marketing successes? Any big plans for a debut release? 

Sarah Tipton is a writer of Christian Young Adult fiction. Her debut novel, Betrayal of the Band, released in August 2017. Visit sarahtiptonbooks.com to connect.

Monday, August 28, 2017

How and Why to Write an Anti Hero

To wrap up August's theme of heroes, I want to talk anti heroes.

Why should you write an anti hero?

Short answer: Anti heroes are fascinating. Their moral compass definitely doesn't point true North. But even though they break laws and leave destruction in their wake, these dark heroes are on a mission to do the right thing. Even villains are doing the right thing according to their own story, though, right? So what separates an anti hero from a villain? It's all in the way you write them.

My favorite anti hero is a popular one. Walter White from Breaking Bad. He's an excellent example for how to write an anti hero.

1. The anti hero starts off as a good person.

Walter White starts his story as a straight-and-narrow family man, high school chemistry teacher, and on top of that, he works another job at a car wash to provide for his family. There's nothing villainous about this guy. Even when we see him get irritated, he responds with compliance.

Source: gipy.com

2. The anti hero begrudgingly compromises his morals in response to an impossible situation.

Every protagonist should face an impossible situation. The hero will stand their moral ground and find some way through their mess. They'll stick to their morals even if it means losing because above all, they don't want to lose themselves.

The villain will manipulate, destroy, and do whatever they have to do to get what they want as quickly as they want. It doesn't matter to them who gets hurt in the process.

The anti hero will struggle with what to do to overcome the impossible, but in the end, he compromises his morals for the sake of the goal. Walter White finds out he has lung cancer, and that even with his two jobs, he can't come anywhere close to paying for medical treatment without leaving his family in horrible debt. So when he learns how much money meth dealers make, and he finds a former student in the business, he sees a solution to his problem. Make meth and go into business with his former student. Walter isn't happy about this at all, but he justifies his illegal actions by saying he'll only make enough money to pay for his treatment.

Source: giphy.com

3. Amp up the internal struggle. Make it juicy. Blur the lines.

Without giving anything away for those who somehow haven't watched Breaking Bad, there's a scene where Walter White really crosses the morality line, and I mean more than making meth. He crosses the line to right a wrong and make sure his illegal hard work isn't for nothing. And when he crosses that line? Ohhhh, he likes it. He's turned on by it. The dark side of this former straight-and-narrow is unleashed.

Source: giphy.com

4. The anti hero needs to be feared by the right people.

Villains and heroes need to be equally matched so that there's tension and excitement in a fair fight. You'll know you have an anti hero and not a villain when the anti hero opposes a villain and they both fear each other. Walter White went up against rival meth cooks and dealers, even opposing the Cartel. And when he crossed the line to the dark side, he became a force his rivals feared. And here's where things get muddied...there are heroes in the story too: the DA (Walt's brother-in-law). In the eyes of the DA, Walter White (they don't know his identity) is no different or less villainous than the other drug dealers. But remember, Walter sticks to a certain level of morality, and he does it for the sake of his family.

Source: gipy.com

The reason anti villains are so interesting is because no one person is completely good or completely bad. We've all wondered what it would be like to bend or break the law, haven't we? We've wondered what would push us to cross our moral line. Think of the classic scenario of stealing bread to feed your family. The anti hero satisfies that dark side we all have, no matter how tucked away we keep that part of ourselves.


Jessie Mullins is married to her highschool sweetheart, and together they have an awesome son. She's a mommy blogger and writes YA. You can find bookish things on her writer Facebook page.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Win an eARC of BREAKING THE RULES OF REVENGE by Samantha Bohrman

My book Keeping Her Secret is part of the multi-author Endless Summer series from Entangled Teen. Today, I'm giving away two eARCs of the third book in the series (each book is entirely standalone and they don't need to be read in order), Breaking the Rules of Revenge by Samantha Bohrman, releasing September 11th!

Mallory Jones is tired of being the girl who stays home and practices French horn while her identical twin, Blake, is crowned homecoming queen. So when she has the opportunity to pretend to be Blake, she takes it. At Camp Pine Ridge, she will spread her wings and emerge a butterfly. Or at least someone who finally gets kissed by a cute guy. That is, until bad boy Ben Iron Cloud shows up, ready to get revenge on Blake—aka Mallory.

If it weren’t for that infuriating girl, Ben wouldn’t even be at camp. Luckily, he now has six weeks to soak up some rays and get even with his nemesis. But the more time he spends with Blake, the more he realizes she’s nothing like the girl he thought she was—she’s kind and innocent and suddenly way too tempting. And soon enough, revenge is the last thing on his mind. Unfortunately, the girl he’s falling for is keeping a major secret…

Disclaimer: This book contains a super-hot bad boy out for revenge, all sorts of camp hijinks, and a girl who realized she’s been a butterfly all along.

Read the first chapter at Samantha's blog!

Goodreads | Amazon | NetGalley

About the Author

Samantha Bohrman lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband and three children. As a kid, she attended every summer camp imaginable—gymnastics camp, French camp, biology camp, architecture camp, debate camp, band camp, and the list goes on. Sadly, as a teen, Samantha was too shy to ever attend a camp dance. She is making up for it now with plenty of fictional summer camp smolder.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook


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