Friday, April 29, 2011

On Pacing

(Don't forget to enter the contest for an ARC of Supernaturally!)

No real preamble here. I'm talking about pacing today, so I've cut out the fluff! Aren't you proud of me. Wait, this is fluff. Crapitall. Guess I need to read my points again.

I've written and edited and read a lot of books. Here are some tricks I've learned along the way:

1) Cut out the first chapter. I heard Cassie Clare talking about this on her book tour, and it's so true. The first chapter of the first draft is for the writer, not the reader. You're figuring out the voice and setting up the world/character for yourself. Most of the time (at least this was true with many of my early books) the story doesn't really start until chapter two.

2) Assume your readers are intelligent. Your readers don't need you to tell them that your character sleeps, or showers, or eats, or, you know, goes to the bathroom and stuff. They are going to assume that for themselves. If you've already established that your character wears light makeup, you don't need to tell us every time she puts it on. If you've already established your character's general style, you don't need to detail every outfit she ever wears unless there is a reason to (it is special, she's putting it on for a specific reason, etc). This also goes for getting from point A to point  B. We don't need to see everywhere your character walks, or hear about every car ride. If you say, "We're going here," and the next chapter starts with your characters already there, your readers will understand that there was some sort of transportation that took place in the meantime. You don't need to start every school day when the bell rings and end it when they leave the school grounds. We're going to assume that if a scene suddenly jumps to your character in a classroom, they got there by, you know, going to school on time and stuff. The exceptions are if something IMPORTANT happens during these showers, or dressing scenes, or traveling scenes, etc. It's easy sometimes when you are writing to get caught up in transitions because you need to see every part of the story, but most of those transitions are very, very inessential.

(Of course, this isn't to say you should cut details. But a few details go along way as far as food, clothing, physical descriptions, etc. Unless you are Laini Taylor, and then you could write a book of nothing but descriptions and I would still read it forty times.)

3) This is something my crit partner, the lovely and brilliant Stephanie Perkins, told me after reading Flash (the book that didn't sell): "You end most chapters with Sarah going to sleep. And that does feel like a very natural way to end a chapter, but every time you do that you are giving your reader permission to take a break and put down the book. Don't ever give your reader an excuse to put down the book."

I repeat: Don't ever give your reader an excuse to put down the book.

4) Funny and cute cannot exist for themselves. Everything must serve to push the plot forward. It doesn't matter if it's character development or plot development, each chapter and each part of each chapter needs to have momentum and forward progression. In the first draft of Paranormalcy (and I've talked about this before) I had this great section where Evie spends a whole day at school with Lend. But first they go shopping for clothes. And then they go to all of his classes. And eat lunch. And meet his friends. And sit on a couch. And...yeah. It was cute! There were some great lines! But it brought the action and the pace of the story to a screeching halt. Nothing was happening to move anything forward, and in the end it was very self-indulgent writing. I wanted Evie to have that. I wanted to see her in this place she'd always dreamed of. And, once I had, I was able to step back and pull the best parts from that and then cut everything that didn't matter.

5) Don't make things too easy for your character. This is the problem I'm having with Isadora right now. There is the Big Bad Thing that is hanging over everything else, but until we get to the point where we address that head on, there needs to still be conflict. And, being the nice writer I am, I've made things too easy for Isadora in the meantime. And if things are easy for Isadora, they're easy for my readers and my readers can forget the DOOM AND DESTRUCTION looming over her unknowing head. So my job now is to find ways to drop stronger hints, foreshadow, and also introduce tension in other areas of Isadora's life so that the readers (and Isadora) never get too comfortable and decide to, say, put down the book.

6) Don't write to your reader. Now, obviously, in Paranormalcy I did break that wall and have Evie talk directly do the reader occasionally. But it was a choice, and on purpose, and I totally nailed it so absolutely it works. (Ha! Just kidding. I'm just saying, you can use that as a narrative technique as long as you are doing it on purpose.) But too often I've seen (especially in books that have a complicated setup like dystopian and fantasy so often do) writers using their narrators to explain the world to the reader through thoughts and musings. If you ever find your MC "explaining" things in their heads, stop. Take a step back. Think whether or not it makes any sense for your character to be thinking about the broad and complicated political history that brought her society to the point where she is now dancing in an ice cream cone costume on the side of the road. At gunpoint. With, uh, aliens. Would you be thinking about the socioeconomic conditions of the world in which you lived? No. You'd be thinking, "Dude, this ice cream cone costume is stifling and I have a blister and if I could just get one of those guns from those smug, horribly little aliens I'd show them a thing or two about what it means to be an ice cream cone."

Let the world speak for itself. Let us learn about the world through what your characters are doing in it. If maybe you never get to put in that information about the stock market crash in 2017 that led to a worldwide shortage of dairy products and the new legislation banning all inessential dairy items such as ice cream, well, we'll figure it out through the world.

In conclusion, sometimes it's hard to see what's essential. Sometimes your favorite parts might end up being very inessential. Sometimes we forget about our readers and let them fall asleep, and sometimes we are all too aware of our readers and don't trust them to figure things out on their own. But sometimes you need to write those inessential parts when you are first drafting because they help you figure out what you are trying to say.

This is what's great about editing--pull out what works from what's slowing you down, and figure out some other, more essential, place to put it. Lose the fluff and sputtering that is dragging your pace down; keep the spark and soul of your story. First drafts are for finding the story. Edits are for making it a story your readers simply cannot put down.

So it's just too bad that they, unlike your characters, frequently need to eat, sleep, and pee. You're going to make it very hard for them to do any of that.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Keynoted: My Artistic Interpretation of How It Feels to Be a Writer

To close my keynote, I decided to share some personal artwork with the teens as a graphic interpretation of what it feels like to be an author. I think the art speaks for itself.

 (A kid raised his hand and said, "Do you know he doesn't have a neck?" 
I screamed, "OH NO! Well, I didn't take many anatomy classes in college. Or many art classes.")

And that, my friends, is why I get paid the big bucks. Or no bucks. Whichever.

Don't all line up at once to ask me to come speak at your writing conferences.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Keys on Notes. Notes on Keys. Keynotes.

Saturday I had the awesome opportunity to attend the Teen Author Boot Camp (put on by the super cool writing group Writers Cubed) and give the keynote speech. It was the first one I've ever done and, in spite of minor technical difficulties at the beginning quickly solved by the tech savvy organizers (which also gave me the opportunity to decide my next imaginary band should be named Technical Difficulties), I had a great time and felt like it went well.

Plus, speaking to an audience made up entirely of teen writers? You really can't get a better group than that. I was so impressed with the teens I met there. My favorite events are always the ones focused around teenagers. There's a reason I write for them. That reason is that they are awesome and hilarious and so much cooler and put together than I remember being at that age...

Anyhow, some people asked if I could post my keynote. I'm not going to type out everything I said because aside from a few slides with key points, I mostly ad libbed the whole thing. (AND! I managed to only talk fast, instead of waywaywaytoofast!) But today and tomorrow I'll share my powerpoint slides for some of it with you. 

Today, my main tips for moving from being a real writer to being a realer writer. Keep in mind I spoke more on each of the points; please just imagine what I would have said, and while you are at it imagine I said it while standing at a perfect 5'7" height, with flawless hair and makeup, and that everything was brilliant and funny and astonishingly applicable.

Tomorrow: I show off my mad art skills. Be excited. Be very excited.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

My New Favorite Song

I'll post about my keynote from the Teen Author Boot Camp on Monday and Tuesday, but it introduced me to THIS:

I'm reading a book! I'm reading a book!

(When we walked in at the end and this was playing for all the teens my first thought was, "What on EARTH are they introducing to these poor innocent teens?"  Until I understood the lyrics.  Best song ever.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

One of Those HOLY CRAP Author Moments

I just got these pictures from my fabulous Turkish publisher, Dogan Egmont.  I have no words.  Just the sound of my jaw dropping.

I's just...

Yup. No words. I ♥ Turkey. Anywhere that plasters posters for books like they were rock concerts pretty much rules.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Once Upon a Time in High School

I've been going through some of my old writing things to use for a keynote speech I'm giving this Saturday at the Teen Author Boot Camp. (Somewhere the organizers see this post and start panicking that I haven't finished my speech yet. I would reassure them, but, well...maybe they should invest in chocolate and comfort foods.)

In high school I was too scared to commit to writing longer fiction, so instead I plumbed the deep depths of my serious deepness and wrote deep poetry with much depth.

It was deep.

Deeply deep.

I bought a journal just for my poetry. When I bought it, I laughed and told everyone that it was ironic.

It was a lie. I bought it because it was sparkly. The same reason I would have bought Edward Cullen if he were for sale at the Disney Store. I LIKE SPARKLY THINGS. It's the only trait Bella and I have in common.

Of course, not content to merely scribble poems, I gave it a title. Do you want to see the title? Of course you don't. I'm going to show you anyway.

 My favorite part? "Vol I"
Umm, Kiersten? You didn't even fill up half of this book, your egregious use of line breaks notwithstanding.

To be fair, some of the poems are decent. Sure, I loved random line breaks, and isolating single words in a completely nonsensical fashion, but there's some good imagery buried in all of that hot pink self-indulgent whining.

Also, there are a whole lot of breakup poems.

Snort. As far as I know, he and his brother are no longer dating.

 Maybe Me, Myself, and I need counseling. Just sayin'.

I also wrote a lot of poems about writing poems. I was so meta! And I didn't even know what meta meant!

 Well, she needed someone to tell her that line breaks do not make a poem deep.
Also she needed to get rid of her bangs.

Now, it's easy to read these and laugh. I took myself WAY too seriously, and spent way too much time worrying about whether or not I was smarter than everyone else around me. (I wasn't.) I also spent way too much time worrying about whether or not the boys in my life liked me as much as I liked them. (They didn't. Which was a good thing.)

But it's also important to read these and remember how it felt to be me back then. Remember that I've always taken things too seriously, and that finding a sense of humor about my life is a very, very good thing. Remember how lonely just being was back then, which makes me even more grateful for where I am now with an amazing husband, two delightful kids, and truly good friends. Remember that I've always needed words as an outlet, even before I was ready to commit myself to them for longer than a handful of lines

with way too many


line breaks.

And it's also important to remember that teen me gave herself permission to feel everything, and to express what she was feeling. Even if she sometimes did it in third person. Adult me needs that reminder every now and again.

But I give adult me permission not to use a hot pink pen, because honestly.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pretty Much

Little girl on the playground, talking to another little girl: "That's Ethan. He's my boyfriend. Every time I see him at school I bother him, and then he pushes me and tells me to go away."

Oh, relationships. If she had said, "And also I suspect he might want to kill me and is not entirely human," then I would have invited her to be the main character in a YA paranormal romance.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Secret to Writing a Best-Seller

I'm tired.

Today was the first day of school after spring break, and it's left me buried in melancholy, anticipating this August when both Nayna and Dojo will be in school and I will be home. Alone.

So, it's a good mood to address a question. That whole best seller thing. Or best-seller thing. Or bestseller thing. See, you can hit the NYT list but it still doesn't mean you're going to know what the standard way of compounding those words is. You can't have everything, I suppose.

I sometimes get emails from people asking me how they can make their book a best seller. Bestseller. Best-seller. Best: seller. Best? Seller!

I'm probably not supposed to give this secret out, but whatever. Like I said, I'm tired, Monday is kicking my butt, and I'm not interested in keeping secrets when I could help aspiring writers out. So here it is, the ultra top secret never before revealed key to bestsellerdom:

Write the best possible book you can.

The end.

Seriously folks, everything else? Out of your control. Maybe you write that best possible book and it gets published but for whatever reason nobody ever picks it up. Maybe you get a huge marketing blitz from your publisher but it never gets the word-of-mouth buzz it needs (it happens). Maybe you get zero marketing from your publisher but Big Name Authors find your book and love it and talk about it all over the place and suddenly your little book becomes a very big book. Maybe you do everything you can and your publisher does everything they can and then you all just sit back and hold your collective breath and see what happens.

Or maybe you write the very best possible book you can, do whatever you can/think you should to help get an agent/get an editor/promote it, and then write the next very best possible book you can. Most of the people who ask me stuff like this haven't even finished one book, much less gotten a publishing deal. Focus on the writing. The rest will sort itself out, and if you're already worried about being a best-seller best seller bestseller bestseller you are doing it wrong. That sounds harsh, and I don't mean it to be, but it's true.

In the end, the writing is all you can do. So don't worry so much about things you can't control and just write.

And then tell me what the standard way of writing bestseller/best seller/best-seller/BEST! SELLER! is.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Pretty! The Pretty! Italian Edition

As exciting as all parts of being an author are, one thing I've been ridiculously excited for are foreign covers.  It's always so fun seeing how another culture and country choose to represent your book in their language.  I may or may not be guilty of obsessively trying to decipher and translate my myriad of foreign publishers' websites to get a sneak peek at the covers they've designed.


My Italian publisher, Giunti, takes the cake for being awesome.  They emailed the cover to us, and, well, holy crap.  

The lights! The trees! The lettering! THE HAIR.

I'm so delighted with it.  I love its lush, romantic feel, and the almost tangible atmosphere of magic and fantasy.  Plus, I totally have that dress in blue.

(Just kidding.  Ha.  Ha.  Pardon me while I stare at my tee-shirt and pajama shorts and weep.)

I feel like this cover should be framed and hung on my wall.  It's really not fair that I hit the cover jackpot in the U.S. AND in Italy, but, well, I'm certainly not going to complain about it!

Paranormalcy is currently out in Poland, Turkey, and Russia.  The Portugal edition comes out in May, and the German and Spanish editions will be available in June.  My gorgeous green Giunti Italian beauty comes out this May.  Wish I could do a launch party there...

Friday, April 1, 2011


So, I've been sitting on this news for a while, but I've finally got the go-ahead to tell you about my new project--that we just sold!! And another ! And maybe five more, for good measure !!!!!

I'm so, so excited about this one. It took me a long time to come up with an idea that felt as authentic and fresh as Paranormalcy, but I can honestly say I am prouder of this book than I am of anything I've ever written.  With no further ado, the Publisher's Marketplace announcement:

In a major deal, in a pre-empt, with a rumored film already in the works, agent Michelle Wolfson sold world rights to NYT bestselling author Kiersten White's newest trilogy.  The first book, as yet untitled, revolves around a shy, awkward girl who moves from the desert to a rainy northwest town where everyone wants to be her friend, but she only has eyes for the incredibly beautiful--and obviously dangerous and quite possibly undead--boy who acts as though he wants to kill her.  Within minutes of the deal teen girls across the nation were already dividing into teams based on love interest preferences, and a marketing campaign designed to make girls (and grown women) everywhere break up with their boyfriends because they cannot possibly measure up to a fictional romance is already in the works.  Internationally bestselling phenomenon Stephenie Meyer, when told about the deal, was heard to remark, "I swear I already wrote that book."