Thursday, February 20, 2014

Celebrating 32 and so much more!

Today I turn 32. It’s not really a birthday milestone by any of the normal standards, but for me it is quite a milestone. It’s taken me thirty two years, but I’ve finally learned some important things. Many are as a result of one big thing, I’ve learned to become confident in my own skin and not worry about what other people think.

You might say big deal, but for me this really is a big deal, and let me explain why.

Growing up, I quickly learned that people can hurt you for the things they think they know about you. Whether that be something you said, did, or even something they came to their own conclusion on. So my method of dealing with this was keeping my mouth shut as much as possible. Letting things roll off. Letting people say horrible things about me and just letting it happen. I was a bystander pretending like none of this affected me. Let me tell you, even though I pretended and probably wasn’t very good at it, this all affected me very deeply.

So good, bad, or ugly, I rarely talked about myself, the things I was interested in, what was going on in my life. I hid pretty much anything other than superficial crap, because I was afraid of what people might think of me. Even worse I was afraid of what they might say and/or do to me.

I spent the better part of thirty years walking around afraid to do or say anything. Not knowing what might set people off, what might make people hate me, what might make them say nasty and horrible things to me and about me. And one day I looked up and realized I was completely miserable with my life. And the worst part, no one knew how miserable. They knew I wasn’t happy but not to what extent. No one knew that I had bottled up everything wonderful about myself, buried it in a trunk, locked it up, and threw away the key. I couldn’t be myself because what if people didn’t like me? What if what I said left me with no one? I couldn’t take that kind of rejection.

And you know what? I didn’t get any rejection, because I’d completely taken myself out of the game of life. I was getting worse than rejection from others, I was rejecting myself. And one day I looked up and wondered how I got to where I was and it seemed like an utter mystery.

And yet I had no idea how to fix it, or any idea if I even wanted to. I was perfectly content hiding from the world, and I wasn’t, all at the same time. I was a mess.

And then I started burying myself in books. Finding magical worlds I could hide in. And somewhere in that span of time, I found others who enjoyed those magical worlds too. I talked to those people, and they didn’t think I was crazy. I slowly started to open up. Let little bits of myself sneak out, but never so much that it might come back to haunt me. And never in real life, only online, with the protection of a computer screen and a million miles between me and the people inside that crazy place called the interwebs.

But this was just the beginning of my transformation. As I started to throw little bits of my real self out online, I still was very much closed off to the real world. I wasn’t ready to test it out in public. What if it backfired? I wouldn’t be able to hide what it did to me. My shell was much too thin. It would break far too easily.

With so much bottled inside, I still didn’t have an outlet for my feelings. I was buried in the pages of imaginary worlds, and between the pages of internet forums where I could only leak little pieces of myself.

And then one day I started writing. Not because it was an outlet, but because I was bored. I needed something to do, and writing worlds I could escape to seemed like a good idea. It was just messing around with names and symbolism at first, but it quickly transformed into ideas, lots of them. Crazy ones that would take over my brain and force me to put them on the page. And even though I never intended for writing to be an outlet, somehow it became exactly that. The emotions I couldn’t share with anyone else, came out in these characters that spilled onto the page.

And then something totally insane happened. I decided I needed to share my work, decided I needed to find out if I was wasting my time. See if I was onto something. And for some reason sharing my characters and their stories was a lot easier than sharing my own.

Honestly, I wanted someone to tell me I was awful, that I should give up and not even bother. That I was wasting my time. And at a time in my life when I tried more than anything to sabotage myself, I got the exact opposite. Okay well not the exact opposite, but I found a ton of encouragement. While many people in my life, my family and closest friends, had always been encouraging of what I did, this was the first time I’d gone into the world (or in this case the glorious interwebs) and gotten it from complete strangers. People didn’t jump down my throat and find things to make fun of, they built me up without even knowing it.

So I went back to the drawing board. I started to learn how to write. I took classes, I joined writing groups, and I worked toward finishing the book. I was all in. People saw my mood shifting. They saw how busy I was. They started asking what I was up to. Because I was on this new high, I told them. I’m writing a book. And the weirdest thing happened. People not only thought it was awesome, they supported me, they rooted me on. They took interest in me and started coming to me periodically to ask how things were going.

I slowly started to realize that maybe letting the world know who I really was, wasn’t such a bad thing after all. It wasn’t so bad, because not only were there people out there who cared, there were also people out there just like me. People who also enjoyed the same things I did. People that wore their nerdom proudly, like a badge of honor. And I wanted to be just like those people. So I pinned the nerd badge to my lapel and began to wear it proudly as well. And the more I did, the more people stood with me. The gravitated to my genuine sense of self.

Then this wonderful thing happened. Comic Con came to St. Louis last year. And I realized that there were proud geeks just like me that celebrated that out in public. That it was more than okay for me to do the same. I could not only be myself online, but I could be myself out in the real world. 

And even more amazing, last year at Less than Three, I found a similar experience. People just like me who were often afraid because they'd been beaten down as well. They'd been told they weren't cool and they'd shut themselves down too. And others had found ways to open back up. We all talked about how to stand up to people who beat others down, how to band together, not only to sympathize but to start making a difference. To start the seeds of change.

And in those two events I realized, I’d found my people. Found a world where it was okay to just be me. I’d arrived. And I’d found my confidence. The walls came crumbling down. I was finally me. I didn’t hold anything back. But beyond that, I stopped caring what other people thought because I knew there were people out there like me. There were people that liked me for me. And more importantly, for the first time in my life, I liked me as me.

But I didn’t stop there. Because there came a time when people started to challenge me. It was my childhood all over again. Just because I was an adult didn’t mean I was immune to bullying. It sucked. I was tired of being beat down. I was done keeping my mouth shut. Done letting things just roll off. I decided to let people know that what they were saying hurt, and it wasn’t okay. That the things they were saying did more than just hurt. They were detrimental because they were contributing to the stereotypes in the world. That what they said was preventing the world from changing and moving forward. Preventing the world from accepting others as they were. That there are infinite forms of wonderful in this world, and just because they are all different, doesn't mean one is any better or worse than another. And I wanted to help let the world know that.

Somewhere in learning to speak up for myself and others, the bad conversations began to end and the good, productive ones began. People started looking at what could change instead of who they could beat down. They stopped to think before they spoke. They wondered how the things they say might affect others. And that is a world I’m proud to live in, and a life I’m proud to have.

In all this, I’ve finally learned to be me and be happy with it. And I’m so much richer for it. So this birthday I celebrate all of that, the confidence, the ability to speak up, my nerdery, my writing, my life, and all the wonderful people in it that have been rooting me on along the way. I celebrate the person who finally found herself. Who finally came out of the shell and joined the world. I celebrate the emergence of me!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Synopsis Critique Seminar #1

After watching writer's struggle with synopsis writing, I decided to start Synopsis Critique Seminars where I post my critiques of the first half of writer's synopsis. Today I have my very first critique of Ashley's YA urban fantasy synopsis. A huge thank you to Ashley for being brave enough to share her synopsis critique with the world. I hope everyone finds these helpful for their own synopsis writing. If you are interested in getting a free critique on my blog please see this post.

As a preface, I will say tend to write lots of comments, ask questions, and try to include examples to explain what I'm talking about and help spur the writer. Since writing is so subjective it is important to note that this is one person's opinion/critique and the writer shouldn't feel obligated to use all or even any of the advice if they feel it doesn't resonate with them and their story.

Without further ado, here is my critique of Ashley's synopsis. My comments are in blue.

Right off the bat, she uses present tense, which is a good way to actively engage the reader in the story. Regardless of what tense your story is in, it's best to use present tense in a synopsis to highlight the action/excitement in the story and draw the reader into the plot.

Adam Shelley usually the first time a new character is introduced in a synopsis you put their name in all CAPS EX: ADAM SHELLEY is sick enough to spit tacks. While the first sentence made me sit up straight and take notice, I found it a little confusing. I can’t tell if he’s actually sick or just sick of something. Based on the next sentence it sounds like sick of being nagged, so maybe consider combining the thoughts in the first and second sentences to get the extra detail to really grab attention without confusing the reader. His Nana keeps riding his ass about the hordes of angry demons chasing him. Which is crap, because demons aren’t real. These last two sentences really help paint a better picture of Adam’s situation and have good voice. Also since this is YA I’d recommend adding Adam's age in the first paragraph.

Too bad his alchemist mom never told him about the devil’s deal she made and broke for a Philosopher’s Stone. While this first sentence has some voice I’d consider rewording it a bit to focus the situation from Adam’s perspective since he is the focus. Something like But Adam's mother made a deal with the devil to... (although I'd avoid the cliche I just put in there) After this part I was a little confused, did she break the deal to obtain a philosopher’s stone? And if so maybe a little bit more detail as to what she traded and how this is really going to affect Adam.  Otherwise, Adam might’ve thought twice before chucking his magical ‘mojo’ bag into the river. This last sentence confused me a bit. Adam doesn’t know there are demons but he does know about magic? And I’m not sure what getting rid of magic has to do with the deal his mother made, so if you can connect the two events I think that will help clear up the confusion. Although I’m not sure this sentence is necessary for advancing the plot and you may be able to cut it.

When the demons come to collect, they strew Adam’s guts over the southern oaks like tinsel. What are the demons coming to collect from Adam? And did they really scatter his guts or is that a figure of speech? Sometimes with fantasy and scifi it’s hard to tell literal from metaphorical so try to be as specific as possible. His house is destroyed. His mom is vaporized. The demons probably probably or do? If he isn’t sure maybe say something more like and all clues point to the demons running off with the stone. have the Philosopher’s Stone. And Adam... This reads like the demons have Adam but based on the next paragraph I think you mean that Adam died. If he dies and comes back to life I’d say that because it’s really interesting. Especially since his mom never told him he was immortal!  

By this point I’d also like to have a good idea what Adam’s conflict in the story is. I know he’s just discovered this whole demonic world and that his mother has lied to him, but what is Adam’s overall goal/conflict in the story? Why is Adam’s story so important and what is he trying to do?

Adam isn’t dead. His mom used the Elixir of Life to make him Immortal.

Now he’s caught in the crossfire between the demons and the Immortal Council, rulers of the Spirit World, who fear the Philosopher’s Stone could alter the balance between Heaven and Earth. Here’s the conflict I was looking for. Everything up until now seems like story setup. It’s important to know, however I think you are taking a tad too long to get to this point. So if you can set the story up in one paragraph with 3 or maybe 4 snappy sentences then get to this conflict you will have more time to explain the conflict and how Adam is going to try to resolve it. The Council grants Adam one-thousand days to retrieve the Stone or suffer eternal confinement in Hell. YIKES! This sets up his mission really well, and gives the stakes of the situation if he fails. Nice job!

With his days numbered, Adam and his brother, Nathan, NATHAN embark on the quest a quest to do what? Maybe just say set out to find the stone. That way there is no confusion on what they are doing. alongside their friend, Lilith, and her dad. This is a place where a little more transition would be helpful. So they start their quest, where do they begin? How’s it going? Then we can get to this Halloween party and see why Adam might need some normalcy and doesn’t really get it. But when Adam goes to a Halloween party desperate for some normalcy, a psychotic chemistry teacher finds him in the woods, completely wasted. Why is it important that the chem teacher finds him wasted? The hideously scarred man, Dr. Allan, proves Adam’s blood has the power to turn base metals to gold. Is Dr. Allan the chem teacher? If so introduce him in the previous sentence when he first appears. Also I’m not sure how we got from being found in the woods to his blood. Help connect the pieces for the reader. Just like a Philosopher’s Stone. <- This is really cool!

Adam believes this crackpot chemistry teacher is his key to finding the Stone, so he enlists Nathan and Lilith to investigate him during a basketball game. This is a good next step, a little more detail might help, flush the story out a little more, what makes him think this? What they learn changes everything.<- I’d delete this sentence. It doesn’t tell the reader anything and is taking up space. It’s much better to say what they learn and therefore this shows what is about to change. Dr. Allan is Adam and Nathan’s estranged father. This is a great point for a big reveal. Nice job not holding anything back.

Adam isn’t sure who to trust isn’t sure who or isn’t sure if he can trust his estranged dad? and with no clue where the demons are hiding grows increasingly more moody. I’m not sure you need to tell us Adam is moody, I think saying that he doesn’t know who to trust and doesn’t know where to look for the demons shows that he is frustrated. I think that’s enough. After Lilith’s dad is poisoned at basketball practice, a demon reveals Dr. Allan sold them out. Here’s another place where you jumped a little bit too far ahead in the story. What’s the important piece here that propels the story. That Dr. Allan sold them out. So in order to connect that, can you show that Adam trusted Dr. Allan and then show the betrayal which I’m guessing is poisoning Lilith’s dad. They’ve who is they? The demons? taken Adam’s girlfriend hostage and demand he turn himself over. Uh oh things are looking pretty grim for Adam. I’m assuming they did this to flush out Adam for their own purposes? If you can give a little insight here into the antagonists motivations that might help show how bad things really are for Adam. Adam doesn’t understand why. He was supposed to be after them, not the other way around. I’d cut these last two sentences. I don’t think they add to the overall progression of the story.

From here, Ashley continues on to explain how the book ends as any synopsis should. But for the sake of not spoiling the end of the story, she's requested that I not post the final paragraphs.

A few things that I noticed with this synopsis:
  • Ashley did a good job of setting up her story and showing Adam in his world. It could however, be tightened a little to give her more space to talk about the conflict and story. 
  • She did a great job of sharing important details in the story and didn't hold back. Overall, she's got the all important plot points in her story identified, which is the hardest part when writing a synopsis. Now if she flushes them out a bit more the reader will really have a good understanding of the full picture and Adam's conflict.
  • She had good voice. Synopsis often read really bland and sometimes seem like the writer is saying "and then this happens and then that happens." This synopsis didn't do that which is great.
  • Ashley does a good job of explaining Adam's conflict and giving the stakes. What he has to do, the time frame he has and what happens if he fails his mission. All important points to include in a synopsis.

Thanks again to Ashley for sharing her synopsis and critique. Feel free to post additional feedback you might have for her, but remember to keep it respectful. This is a learning experience for all.

I hope everyone found this helpful and I hope to have another critique soon.