Writing: Level Up

Shveta Thakrar put together a post about what I think of as leveling up–meaning, there are a number of commonalities in writing by people still learning writing skills. If these are challenges for you, they might be affecting how your work is viewed, and thus its estimation of readiness (within traditional publishing’s landscape) or readability (within the self-publishing realm). Some of the points that I am particularly in agreement with are 3, 5 (way, way too many eye references in manuscripts, though the tip is more general), 8, 9, and 10.

I’d add a couple more, some easy to fix, others harder:

  • Not just point 1, but following a particular sentence structure, one that often becomes illogical: Tying her shoe, she rode her bike. Really? Both at the same time? When I see that pattern repeated, it’s a big warning sign for me that I’m going to encounter more serious problems. I don’t know why that structure happens in tandem with so many others!
  • Telling me how to feel. In romances, for an example, it sometimes happens when the heroine meets a new guy and the first thing she notices is he’s hot. In contemporary YA, it happens when the character runs into someone she dislikes and calls her a b—-. (There’s more to say regarding that last one, but in general, trust me to draw conclusions about the complicated, flawed human being, just like you do with the obviously evil baddie.)
  • Square dancing: I know that the character whirled to the right, turned to the left, stomped to the window, and swung their partner. I don’t necessarily need to know who is on whose right or even that they moved, unless it’s unclear or it’s important to the action.

This post brought to you because a manuscript that I was certain was ready for publication now has a deal! Congrats, anonymous person.



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1. Diversity 2. Banned Books 3. Aliens

1. Diversity

I mentioned a bit ago that I had a longer post to write, and this is not that post. This is also not the post where I go through my cache of links–emailed to myself on busy days, hoarded in a to-post-about folder–and give you a roundup. But, in short, there are always great conversations going on in the YA lit and children’s lit community about how to better spotlight diverse books, worth reading, digesting, and acting upon.

Sometimes, change is like cleaning a closet: it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and even once the enormous pile on the floor is reorganized and the junk cleared, the closet won’t stay in pristine condition forever. Sometimes, change happens in sweeping ways: you dump everything in a box and you move somewhere with a better closet. I think that change is difficult for the publishing industry because it’s so slow in general to go from idea to implementation (even for old-fashioned ideas) and so spread out; its creators, consumers, producers, and sellers aren’t always willing–and to be very, very generous, perhaps not always able–to pay attention to the closet at the same time. Right now might be one of those times when concerted effort helps; the #weneeddiversebooks campaign running from May 1-3 seems like a positive example. (And I’m always up for buying books.)

Anyway, in short, if I’ve had crises over not feeling part of books, they’ve been tiny in a relative sense–how much more unfair to never feel part of books? I’m very grateful for the small changes–I can certainly find more and more variety now that I could even three or four years ago–but there is still much room for growth. (Go back a few years more, and you get the “I need to borrow a book” shelf in my classroom that I know didn’t serve my classes of smart, diverse students well; partly, I didn’t have money to fill it, but partly, I didn’t know what I could fill it with. I wish things had been different.)

I won’t be around most of this week/later this week/when this posts, but you, dear reader, may want to check out the campaign.

2.  Banned Books

Banning a book always makes me want to read it more. Luckily, no one has ever policed my reading, not even that time when I was a really little kid checking out a book of limericks at the library, blissfully unaware that limericks weren’t just poems with a punchline, they could be filthy. Great learning experience, though! That was in a public library, and one of the things on my to-blog list is the extreme pressure in schools to keep books on “sensitive” topics out. Most of the time, that pressure affects people who can’t afford to speak loudly in response to the quiet suggestions (think the teacher or librarian who faces losing the only job within a commutable distance, of course framed as for some other reason); sometimes, wonderfully, book banners get backfire. A school in Idaho removed one of the best books I’ve ever read, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, from the curriculum due to parental complaints, and then a group started giving the book away. The angry parents tried calling the cops, who then arrived at the giveaway site, but found no crime in progress. I’m tickled.

If you haven’t read Alexie’s book, I highly recommend it as one of the few interesting banned books. Most are legitimately dull.

3. Aliens

I guess there was this rumor that loads of the Atari game ET: The Extra-Terrestrial were dumped in a landfill when there were too many made. (Heh, that hyphen.) And now those games are found! I have played it, and I don’t think it the hardest (any Atari game that doesn’t have discrete levels and relies on speeding up repetitions has to be worse, right?) or the “worst” (I vote for Outlaw, except now I want to play it again, or Sneak ‘N Peek, a hide-and-seek game, which is just as it sounds, or a game I can’t remember that I don’t think I ever saw anyone play for more than ten seconds without dying).

Off to hum the theme from Frogger.

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Filed under Just for Fun, Promotion, Publishing, Reading, YA