Fixing the First Page Feature #36

Photo credit: chris_ford_uk on Flickr
July is arriving and the 36th Fixing the First Page Feature has finally arrived. Yay!

As usual, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (because I'm one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Here we go!

Title: TO BE IMPROVED

Genre/Category: YA Contemporary/LGBT

First 250 words:

"I check my phone: 4:05 p.m. We’re supposed to start at four, so I get up and peer through the door with the plaque reading Farid Ansari, LPC. 
Mr. Ansari’s office is full of all sorts of sculptures on the window panes and his desk. A couple of paintings hang on the walls, along with his framed certificates. Overall, it’s borderline cluttered, but I shouldn’t be complaining since my room’s not always the tidiest... 
Mr. Ansari turns to me, and his face brightens. 'Come in Sam,' he calls. 'I'll be with you in a second.'
I sink into one of the black leather chairs and wait for him, looking out the window at the street. 
'Hello Sam,' he says as he rolls his desk chair to mine. 'How are you doing?' 
Whether it’s the first time or the fifth time, my nerves still start jumping. It’s not always easy to talk about your feelings like this, especially when you know it’s someone who’s getting paid to put you under a microscope, dissect you, and find out what’s wrong with your life.

'I’m fine,' I say. 'Uh, school’s been going on for a couple of weeks now.' Mr. Ansari keeps his gaze on me. I tap my fingers as I think of what to say. My heartbeat picks up. 'I’m doing all right in my classes…' 
He nods. 'That’s good. Are you enjoying yourself?' Somehow, his gaze seems to intensify, like he’s switching to a higher powered lens on the microscope."

Okay! So before I talk about the sample itself, I have a quick note on the way you categorized your book. I actually recommend against using the four-letter LGBT acronym when describing your book unless you actually have four protagonists, and one is lesbian, one is gay, one is bi, and one is trans. I'm guessing that isn't the case, though, so instead describe what aspect you're actually covering. For example, you can say f/f Contemporary, or m/m Contemporary, or YA Contemporary with a bi protagonist, etc. Be specific. 

Now for the sample itself. I think this opening is written well enough, but I'm not sure it's really so compelling that I'd feel the urge to keep reading—which is obviously what you want, a strong hook to draw the readers in. I think the main issue for me is at this point, there isn't much hint of conflict. Sure, Sam is nervous about talking to the psychiatrist, but why? They (and I'm using they, since Sam's gender is unclear) only talk about how they're doing fine in school and the only nervous-making thing they think about is they're not sure what to say. But I'd like to see a better hint of the upcoming conflict right up front. What exactly is Sam nervous about? Why are they seeing a psychiatrist? Is there something Sam doesn't want to say? I think by giving us a better picture of what's going on in Sam's head and specifically why they're there and how they feel about being there would help point to the upcoming conflict in a way that would draw readers in a little more.

Okay, now for the in-line edits: 

"I check my phone: 4:05 p.m. We’re supposed to start at four, so I get up and peer through the door with the plaque reading Farid Ansari, LPC. Made italic just to better differentiate the narrative and what Sam is reading.
Mr. Ansari’s office is full of all sorts of sculptures on the window panes and his desk. A couple of paintings hang on the walls, along with his framed certificates. Overall, it’s borderline cluttered, but I shouldn’t be complaining since my room’s not always the tidiest... 
Mr. Ansari turns to me, and his face brightens. 'Come in Sam,.' he calls. 'I'll be with you in a second.'
I sink into one of the black leather chairs and wait for him, looking out the window at the street. What does Sam see? This could be a good opportunity to hint at where Sam lives. Is it a wintry city street outside? A rolling spring landscape? Some orange and red autumn-tinted woods? Show us what Sam sees.
'Hello Sam,.' he says as hHe rolls his desk chair to mine. 'How are you doing?' 
Whether it’s the first time or the fifth time, my nerves still start jumping. It’s not always easy to talk about your feelings like this, especially when you know it’s someone who’s getting paid to put you under a microscope, dissect you, and find out what’s wrong with your life.

'I’m fine,' I say. 'Uh, school’s been going on for a couple of weeks now.' Mr. Ansari keeps his gaze on me. I tap my fingers as I think of what to say. My heartbeat picks up. 'I’m doing all right in my classes…' 
He nods. 'That’s good. Are you enjoying yourself?' Somehow, his gaze seems to intensifiesy, like he’s switching to a higher powered lens on the microscope." Nice ending image there. :)

So as you can see, for the most part it's just minor tweaks to get rid of some slight wordiness (like using action tags and dialogue tags in the same line), and an opportunity for more detailed description to help ground the readers. Like I said above, this is pretty well written to start with, so I'd just like to see some building and cleaning up to take it to the next level.

As is, if I were to see this in the slush, I'd pass as I said above, because I'm not currently drawn into the story as much as I would like. But I think with some tweaks to bring in more of the conflict earlier, you'll have a pretty solid set up.

I hope that helps! Thanks so much for sharing your manuscript with us, Jessica!

Twitter-sized bite:

.@Ava_Jae talks hinting early at conflict, building setting and more in the 36th Fixing the First Page Feature. (Click to tweet)

Discussion Vlog: Hardcover? Paperback? E-Book?

Trying out a new vlog format today: discussions! Let's talk your favorite book formats and what makes you choose one over the other. Sound off in the comments below!


RELATED VLOGS:


What's your favorite book format? What makes you choose one format over the other?

Twitter-sized bite:
Hardcover? Paperback? E-book? What's your favorite book format? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's vlog. (Click to tweet)

Do You Use Character Trinkets?

Photo credit: Nancy Big Crow on Flickr
It can be really interesting to consider what items your characters treasure. Most of the time, these items hold more sentimental value than actual value—in A Gathering of Shadows, for example, Lila carries a shard of a statue from the first book as a sort of security blanket. In the same series, Kell's item is his magic coat—he doesn't go anywhere not wearing it, if he can help it.

Trinkets your characters carry can be a subtle way to deepen your characters, or hint at what they're feeling. A character might reach for their trinket when they're nervous, or upset, for some kind of reassurance. They might wear their trinket for all to see or display it in a prominent place—or they might hide it, as something too personal to share with others.

I like using trinkets to help ground my characters—after all, many of us can relate to reaching for something familiar in our uncertain moments. Of course the danger, for me, is I sometimes forget the characters have them, then have to add them back in during revisions (whoops!), but I do think they can be a useful (and easy) way to add another dimension to your characters.

So now I'm curious: do you use character trinkets?

Twitter-sized bite:
What items do your characters treasure? @Ava_Jae talks using trinkets to deepen your characters. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #36!

Photo credit: Cindee Snider Re on Flickr
Brief pre-post post to announce the winner of the thirty-sixth fixing the first page feature giveaway!

*drumroll*

And the thirty-sixth winner is…



JESSICA LIM!



Yay! Congratulations, Jessica!

Thanks again to all you wonderful entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in July, so as always, keep an eye out!

Do You Need That POV?

Photo credit: evans.photo on Flickr
I recently mentioned that POV issues are one of the most common critiques I have for manuscripts I edit. Of those, I'd say probably the most frequently POV issue I come across is unnecessary POVs.

I totally understand why this is a common problem. It can be hard, when you've decided to write a multi-POV story, to decide what POVs are needed to tell the story. After all, you're the author, you could write a story with five, eight, ten, fifteen POVs if you wanted to—but as is the case with many things, just because you can doesn't mean you should.

So how do you know how many POVs to use? And how to you decide what characters should get their own POV?

I always start with this rule of thumb: use as few POVs as you need to tell the story. This is a case where more is not the merrier. Why? Because switching POVs is jarring to readers, and the more times you do it with the more characters you use, the harder it is to get used to any one perspective. There are some readers out there who won't read multi-POV novels simply because they don't like head-hopping, so you really need to have a good reason for every POV that you use. As is the case with all things in writing, there should be a reason for everything.

But what counts as a good reason? Well...

It starts with really understanding your plot. What is the point of the story? What is the central goal and conflict? You'll want to make sure your POV characters are absolutely central to the story, in that you can't tell the story without their perspective. It means every POV character is directly tied to the central goal, so that their story is the story. What you don't need is to give supporting characters perspective chapters—every POV character should be tied enough into the plot that they'd count as a protagonist too. POV characters shouldn't just support the story, they should be the story.

So say you have a cast of characters and are still working on the plot, so you aren't sure who to make a perspective character. The way you choose is actually less complicated than you'd think: you always want to go with the character(s) who have the most at stake and would be most affected by the plot. And in the case of YA, these should all be teen characters.

Choosing perspectives for your story can be tricky at times, but I do think it gets easier with practice. Just make sure to consistently challenge yourself to only use as many POVs as you need to tell the story, and you'll be off to a great start.

Have you ever written a WIP with too many (or few!) POV characters? Or have you read any published books with that problem?

Twitter-sized bite: 
How many POVs should you use? What characters should get their own POV? @Ava_Jae talks choosing POVs. (Click to tweet)

4 Things I've Learned From Vlogging

Vlogging, for me, began as an experiment. Something to try out to help get over my anxiety around having my face online. Ultimately when I decided to stick with it, it was largely because the new medium was fun to play around with, and I figured maybe it'd help broaden my platform, though I really wasn't expecting much in terms of reception for a channel about books and writing.

Luckily, I was wrong. Though YouTube is far from my oldest platform, it has undeniably become my largest and most interactive audience by far. It turns out, there are loads of writers out there looking for tips to help better their writing on all media formats—not just the written ones.

I've now been vlogging for a number of years. And here are some things I've learned along the way.

  1. YouTube's audience isn't just trolls. YouTube kind of has a reputation for having a large audience of trolls who get kicks filling YouTubers' comments with meanness and/or grossness. I was pretty worried about this when I first started vlogging, but I'm glad I took the risk because my experience has been far from the stereotype. Have I encountered jerks making rude comments about my appearance or presentation? Yes. But to be honest, I'd say as of right now with over 13,000 subscribers, for every troll comment I get, I get like fifty genuine comments. Maybe even more. My ratio right now is probably about the same as Twitter, and though that might change as my channel grows, my experience over the last couple years has been largely positive. 

  2. Relaying the same information in different formats works. While not all of my YouTube videos are a vlog version of already-existing blog posts, many of them are. I was a little hesitant about doing this at first—after all, the blog posts exist!—but I quickly learned the audience on YouTube is largely not interested in jumping over to my blog unless I don't already have a vlog about a topic they want. It even works on my blog too, because obviously most of you haven't read all 1,167 blog posts on Writability, so it allows me to go over information I covered a while ago in a new way. 

  3. If you do what scares you repeatedly, it (sometimes) becomes less scary. I was terrified of putting my face online when I did my first vlog. To the point where when my friends took pictures with me, I asked them not to put the pictures on Facebook for years because the prospect of having my likeness on the internet sent me spiraling into anxiety mode. I started my YouTube channel after I'd started actually treating my anxiety, which then made it possible for me to push past it enough that I posted my first vlog. And my second. And my third. Vlogging was pretty terrifying at first, but the more I did it, the easier it became. And now it doesn't scare me at all—and I actually quite enjoy it. :) Bonus points, vlogging has made public speaking a million times easier—in large part because the process is pretty nearly the same, I can just see my audience instead of staring into a camera. 

  4. In terms of income, YouTube has a pretty decent conversion rate. It's hard for me to compare this to my other social media sites, because people don't regularly tell me on Twitter or my blog when they've decided to get my book because of my presence there. But for whatever reason, people on YouTube do—and the number of times I've heard from my YouTube audience that someone bought my book because they like my channel is way higher than I was expecting. Same goes for my freelancing—I've had quite a few clients discover me on YouTube and hire me from there. Now I've just recently started monetizing my vlogs that have over 10,000 views, and though I'm not making a ton from that, it's still a little extra something that will only grow over time as more vlogs hit 10,00 views. Or I decide to lower the threshold. 

So those are some things I've learned from running a channel on YouTube. Do you watch writers on YouTube?

Twitter-sized bite:
Over 150 vlogs later, @Ava_Jae shares 4 things they've learned from running a YouTube channel. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Writing and Music

Another question asked, another question answered. Today I'm talking about what I listen to while I write and edit—and why.


RELATED LINKS:


What are your music preferences while writing?

Twitter-sized bite:

From bands to soundtracks to headphones and more, @Ava_Jae shares their music preferences while writing. (Click to tweet
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