Every time I finish reading a book, I realise how much I still have to learn about writing. I get inspired and intimidated. I learn something (usually somethings) every time, so I’m thinking, will I only be able to write well when I’ve read every popular YA book around? When I’ve seen the huge variety of how it’s done?

But. That shouldn’t stop me from writing before I get there. I’ve been slack but I’m gonna get back on the horse.

I’ve kind of sucked in the reading department for the past, like, 7 years. I used to read so prolifically in my early teens, then it just dropped off, and I would barely read a couple of books a year. It’s only in the past few months — since I’ve begun writing seriously — that I’ve started reading often again. I missed it. There’s something special about curling up in bed with a book, and the Internet and TV shows and movies don’t quite compare.

Anyway. I just finished Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers today (I think I started it yesterday).

Seriously. Words cannot describe.

But I’ll give it a shot anyway.

I’ve never come across such a brutal, unflinching look at mean girls before. I cringed and winced and was completely sucked in. I really love Summers’ writing style. Today I pretty much answered my family with one word responses so that I could end the conversation and read the next page of this book. The climax bothered me a little, but I won’t get into that because I don’t want to spoil things. Otherwise I think it’s perfect.

I say that as someone who’s never really been bullied or been the subject of taunting bitchiness. So if I loved it, someone who relates more will probably love it to an even bigger extent.

I finished Unwind by Neal Shusterman just a few days ago and that was equally disturbing, if not, more so. There is one scene near the end of that book that had my skin crawling like nothing else I’ve ever read before.

So I’m done with dark and heinous for the minute. Give me fluff and feel-good.


teaser tuesday

January 12, 2010

I have been thinking about my opening chapter. It breaks rules. (1) It begins with a dream. (2) It begins with pain, sort of. Apparently both are overdone and agents want nothing to do with either of them. Generally speaking. I knew that dreams were kind of a no-no, but I thought it was pretty crucial to my story, and unique enough to make it stand apart, so that people would forget they didn’t like reading about dreams in the opening scene.

I was wrong on both accounts.

About an hour ago I had a change of heart about it. I guess it comes down to the whole ‘murder your darlings’ idea. I didn’t think I had a problem with doing that, but apparently I do. I need to be more focused on telling the best story, rather than keeping ideas just because I had them and wrote them down.

My thoughts now:

Why would I want to defend being even a little bit cliched, when I usually try to avoid it like the plague? Why do I need to stick with that idea for the opening scene, when it was pretty much the first thing that came to mind, not the best? I will come up with a more unique opening.

I do see it as a process. If I hadn’t written that opening chapter, and the other 8 chapters I wrote based on it, I wouldn’t have gotten so far along with plot and characters. I wouldn’t have been able to come up with an opening that was suitable. So even if I have to trash most of the 20,000 words I’ve already written, I’m coo’.

Anyway. Here is my first attempt at rewriting the beginning of my story:

It looks like I have three sets of parents.

There are my adoptive parents, the admirably dysfunctional Timbles. They’ve been pretty cool about all this, for old people. They told me I didn’t come from Mum’s privates as soon as I was old enough to understand, and managed to keep my self-esteem somewhat intact ever since.

There are the Westleys – the perfect couple. They align the ornaments on their coffee table parallel to the edge and symmetrical distances apart, and apologise when you accidentally step on their feet. We’ve met up with them a few times, on account of me wanting to find my bio parents.

Then there are the two somebodies who actually are my bio parents, because the Westleys aren’t actually perfect. They’re full of shit.

teaser tuesday

January 6, 2010

Even though I’m a serious newbie there, I’m butting my way into the Absolute Write YA Teaser Tuesday, cause it looks like fun. Here goeses.

Oh, and, a note: ‘college’ in Australia means high school.



So I thought I’d talk writing books. There are a few that have changed how I think about writing stories.

Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Lusser Rico

This is a book I borrowed from the Vic Writer’s Centre but I’m not sure it’s still in print. I picked it up because it was unlike any other writing book I’ve seen. The tagline is ‘Using Right-Brain Techniques to Release Your Expressive Powers’. Sounds interesting, right? I still haven’t finished it but a great idea I picked up is to use mindmaps before writing something. Say you want to write about grief, you write the word in the middle of a page with a circle around it, then you draw lines branching off to every idea that comes to mind, and branch off these branches further, too, if you want. Then, using the mindmap as a guide, you write your piece using ideas from it.

The idea is that when we write linearly, we can get stuck in writing things that aren’t truly unique and don’t truly come from us within. This is because of how we’ve been taught to write, from the left side of the brain and not the right. We sometimes write what we feel we should write and that limits our creativity. And some of us perfectionists won’t play with ideas in writing, we just want to write perfectly. The pressures limit us, and mindmapping, or ‘clustering’, as the author calls it, helps us break through those pressures and allows us to play with ideas.

Story by Robert McKee

This is a screenwriting book, but it applies to novel-writing, too. I’ve tried to finish it a few times, but I don’t seem to get halfway through it because it inspires me to get started instead of reading. (Plus it is huge.) Anyway, I learnt from Mr McKee about different plot structures and the importance of making every scene count and move the story forward.

The Little Red Writing Book by Mark Tredinnick

First of all, I love how this book is written. It’s got this lyrical style that still gets to the point. It’s not specifically for fiction, but it’s still very useful. It’s a general book that I read for inspiration and to remind me of important writing things that I may have let slip a little.

The Soul of Creative Writing by Richard Goodman

I only found a little of this book useful, namely the first few chapters. But fortunately, it’s broken up into aptly titled chapters, so you can just read the parts relevant to you if you want. (I read the whole thing.) What resounded with me was the talk about style. How important it is to say things right, how many millions of ways there are to say something, and how it’s up to you, the writer, to pluck from those millions the one that means most and sounds best to you. It’s a good thing to remind myself of.

I knew a boy named Thayer Mangeress. I had the good fortune of being close to him.

Teenage Dirtbag is a low budget indie film about a popular girl and an abused delinquent in high school. The boy becomes a little obsessed with the girl, and when they’re forced to sit together in Creative Writing classes and study hall due to their last names, the girl finds that he’s not quite the asshole she thought he was. But still, he makes it really, really difficult for her to like him, and theirs isn’t exactly a match made in heaven.

This movie is unlike almost every other ‘teen’ movie I’ve seen (I put teen in quotes because I think it’s more an adult movie than a teen one, even though it’s mostly set in a high school). There’s no big screen gloss to the filming and the actors aren’t all unbelievably stunning regardless of their social status. The realness feels fresh, and I want to see more of it in teen film.

The character of Thayer truly intrigued me, and I got sucked deeper and deeper into compassion and heartache with him as I watched the movie. He was uniquely insane and fascinating, and I completely get how Amber responded to him. There were no unrealistic ‘love will save all’ type messages or quick fixes to Thayer’s deep-set problems.

I adored the story. What it says about social status and adolescence, love, and the effects of abuse. How there are no easy fixes for abuse, how it will truly Fuck You Up and you can’t necessarily escape it and get what you want before the credits roll. How love isn’t pure, it’s messy and hard and sometimes doesn’t or can’t work.

That said, Teenage Dirtbag isn’t perfect. Certain performances seemed a little jilted and off at times, but overall the acting was powerful. Coupled with the story and direction, I was entranced. It’s stayed with me since I watched it.

Once upon a time, in the bubble-gum-snapping, glitter polish-wearing, lip-gloss-applying San Fernando Valley, a gentle girl named Barbie met a feisty fairy named Mab. Mab glimmers and gabs by Barbie’s side throughout her teen years as she becomes a successful fashion model, falls in love, and endures all the troubles that come along for the ride–in addition to facing the black secret of her past.

This is one of those classics where every word written has a meaningful purpose, where I can’t find anything that I would suggest to change. A totally super book.

The trouble with reading as a writer is that it’s hard to engross myself completely into a book without thinking of all the lessons I’ve learned about writing and whether or not they apply to the passage I’m reading. Even though one of the lessons is to ‘forget the rules, there aren’t any’, I’ve still been ingrained with certain ideas about what you can do and what you can’t. Anyway, Block breaks a few of those rules. Or maybe I should call them ‘principles’. She does an omnipresent point of view at times. There aren’t chapters, just part I and part II.

At first I thought the book was written in such a way that the reader doesn’t truly feel connected with the protagonist, Barbie. But the stunning voice kept me enticed enough to read on, and by the end of the first part, I gave a crap about her, all right. I gave a whole lot of crap.

As for voice, read this:

“If Los Angeles is a woman reclining billboard model with collagen-puffed lips and silicone-inflated breasts, a woman in a magenta convertible with heart-shaped sunglasses and cotton candy hair; if Los Angeles is this woman, then the San Fernando Valley is her teenybopper sister. The teenybopper sister snaps big stretchy pink bubbles over her tongue and checks her lip gloss in the rear view mirror, causing Sis to scream. Teeny plays the radio too loud and bites her nails, wondering if the glitter polish will poison her. She puts her bare feet up on the dash to admire her tan legs and the blond hair that is so pale and soft she doesn’t have to shave. She wears a Val Surf T-shirt and boys’ boxer shorts and she has a boy’s phone number scrawled on her hand. Part of her wants to spit on it and rub it off, and part of her wishes it was written in huge numbers across her belly, his name in gang letters, like a tattoo. The citrus fruits bouncing off the sidewalk remind her of boys; the burning oil and chlorine, the gold light smouldering on the windy leaves. Boys are shooting baskets on the tarry playground and she thinks she can smell them on the air. And in her pocket, whispering secrets about them, is a Mab.”

Tell me that is not amazing.

The wonderful thing about this book is the way it melds innocence with filth, the way it exposes perfect plastic life for the terribleness it really contains. The book is strong and honest. And I almost love what’s not said as much as what is said. The things between the lines.

This is my first Francesca Lia Block novel. I’m very curious about her Weetzie Bat series.