Friday, August 22, 2014

Love Triangles: Do They Really Exist?

Happy Friday! Hopefully your week has been filled with a lot less stress than mine! But, we're all writers, so probably not. There's a new poll at the top right of the page that I would love for everyone to take. I'm really curious to see and share the responses. It'll only take a few seconds, I promise!

As I was packing for school, I was choosing which novels to take with me, and I noticed a common theme about the ones I was leaving behind: they all had love triangles.

Now, please please please don't get me wrong. A love triangle done right is awesome. However, starting sometime after Twilight came out, I've been seeing love triangles pop up exponentially in YA fiction.

(Sorry, I found this really funny.)

And you know what happens? They get tiring, just like any other overdone trend. Should Sally fall for the sweet, sensitive guy or the bad boy who's no good for her? Should Harry fall for the mortal he's known all his life or the werewolf from the world he just found out existed? I think we can agree that we've all seen this, and most of us might have even done this (I have a love quadrangle in one of my books, so I'm not blameless on this).

I don't really want to talk about trends and the overuse of love triangles, though. What I really want to broach is the logistics of love triangles. Yes, I know, it's fiction. Nothing has to be real. But I've always felt that truth and reality should be embedded in any fiction you write, whether it be about bloodsucking aliens living on Planet X or about two teenagers in modern day society falling in love. If reality isn't there, I think it's hard, as a reader, to attach myself to the story. If I can't relate, it gets harder for me to feel for the characters. I'm not saying I can relate to those bloodsucking aliens. BUT, if there's a female bloodsucking alien who is stressed about her pointless exams for alien school? Okay, now I can relate.

I think the same reality should be injected into the idea of love triangles. Do they happen in real life? If so, how often? I'm not an expert on the subject nor do I claim to be. However, I've yet to know someone involved in a love triangle akin to the previous example involving Sally. Today's generation is different than the last. One of these differences is very prevalent in dating. As teens, we don't usually date multiple guys/girls before picking a significant other. This is even a bit taboo in some places. What the teens I know do is they become boyfriend-girlfriend (or boyfriend-boyfriend or girlfriend-girlfriend. This really applies to every type of relationship) and then the dating process commences. Something I see a lot in love triangles is the MC being torn between two guys that she's simultaneously pining after and semi-dating. From my experiences, this doesn't happen too often in today's society.

So, to me, those types of love triangles shouldn't appear in every book I read. It doesn't make logical sense. BUT, there is a type of love triangle that I often see in real life but don't see too often in YA. Person A is dating Person B but then they meet Person C and they don't know who they want anymore. Person A will continue to date Person B as they try and figure out what to do about Person C. This reality brings about many different options for the relationship. Do they stay with the original person? Do they cheat? Do they leave? Do they pick neither? None of the aforementioned? This is the type of scenario I've seen at least once with all my friends and acquaintances. It makes sense. As teens in today's society, we're taught to jump into relationships. Nothing is slow, especially not in our world filled with technology, where that person you like is always accessible. Relationships progress faster. And a lot of the times, they burn out faster, too. It's completely plausible for someone to start a relationship and stumble into another guy/girl and realize they're with the wrong person. It happens. A lot.

I just wanted to semi-rant, semi-present a logical argument about this. If you use love triangles, think about it. Would you rather follow a worn-out path or make your own? Also, I think writers need to realize they shouldn't feel obligated to write anything that doesn't feel comfortable. Yes, love triangles are everywhere right now, but that doesn't mean you need one in your manuscript. I would love to see some YA novels that focus on a long-term relationship where the couple has been together (and stays together) for a few years. Those relationships exist, and it'd be nice to see a writer explore the dynamics of those types of characters. If you have one of these, I would love to read it. Just saying :)

I hope this was helpful! Moral of the story: write what's in your heart. Don't chase trends or what you think will sell. Any comments? Leave them below or shoot me an email and I'll be happy to answer them! Enjoy your weekend!


(This is the type of love triangle I see all the time.)

-Melissa

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

LOL, BRB, LMAO, MTFBWYBYAA...wait, what? Do's and Don'ts of Texting

***If you're interested, my Getting the Call story is up on Michelle4Laughs' blog. And if you haven't checked her blog out before, go and do that, because it's awesome.***

 

I once had to read a fake case study for a psych class. In it, there were two interns who hated their boss. At one point in the scenario, they were sitting at their desks texting each other. The conversation went a little something like this:

Person 1: ICBH ISI CYMMATWC
Person 2: SRII BRB LOW MYAWCI5

uh what?

I am not exaggerating this. Whoever wrote this article sincerely believed that this is how young adults text. Well, let me tell you something: I had to flip all the way to the back of the article to find the key in order to understand what the heck they were saying (If you're wondering, Person 1 said, "I can't believe her, is she insane, can you meet me at the water cooler." Person 2 said, "she really is insane, be right back, lots of work, meet you at water cooler in 15."

So, to sum it up, teens don't text like that.

Now, I'm not saying that teens don't abbreviate things. That's definitely not what I'm saying. Because we do. And I'm also not saying that we all text the same way. Because we don't. But, I can give some general tips on texting dos and don'ts.

DO write a text the way your character would, not the way you think a teen would. Like I said above, all teens text differently, and it usually varies by personality. Think about your character. Are they a self-proclaimed nerd? Are they in AP or Honors English classes? Do you have them texting like: r u sre that your goin to b their? Please say no. This is speaking from experience, but thus far in my life have I yet to meet someone matching the above description who texted that way. These teens (myself included) tend to text like this: Can't you ask someone else? Really not feeling up to it right now. And that's on a bad day. Most of the time, these teens' texts are complete, grammatically correct sentences. However, I have friends who text like: r u sre that your goin to be their? These people are completely different than me, so it only makes sense that they text differently. This is why I say look at your character, think about your character, and write like your character, whether it be inner narrative, dialogue, or a text message.


DON'T go so overboard on abbreviations that it's not understandable. I think my anecdote at the beginning makes it obvious why this is important. BRB, LOL (though most people don't capitalize these, they just write brb or lol) OMY (on my way)--these are commonly used and understood. Memorize them. Love them. Take them home to meet your parents. Don't freak your parents out by bringing home crazy, bad-boy abbreviations like MTFBWYBYAA (this means "may the force be with you because you are awesome," by the way). What I mean by this is don't confuse your readers. I've read some YA novels with texting scenes that I'm like...what's this person saying? And then later in the scene, when something completely out of the blue happens, I'm like, oh, that's what they must have been texting about. Got it now.  
 Duckling No
Don't do this.

DO make it easy for a reader to understand 1) that it's a text message and 2) who's sending it. I don't care how you format it in the manuscript so long as it makes sense. Don't get convoluted. You can do something like:

Me: blah blah blah
Anna: No! You don't say?

Or, you can intersperse texts (instead of stringing them all together), in which case a simple narrative line of "My phone beeped and I pulled it out, opening a text from Anna" works. It makes it clear. It keeps it simple. If you're making it a group message, state that before any of the texting begins. Don't try and think up a way to show the reader that all of these people are receiving all of these texts. It gets confusing. Just say it. If you've already prefaced that Anna, Nick, and your MC are in the conversation, the reader will understand that everyone is seeing everyone's texts.

DON'T capitalize on trends. Texting changes. New abbreviations come into the mix, and it's tempting to use them while they're popular. But, I'd suggest shying away from them. Yolo was big, but it's on the way out. Same thing with smh (shaking my head) and swag. Things get big, and then they pass. Don't willingly date your book--unless your book is supposed to be happening during a specific moment in time or time period, in which case, go for it! Oh, and please, for the love of God, never have one of your characters say, "Oh swag," to describe a hot guy. Please. Just no.
swag

DO use texting. Teens text, if I haven't made that clear. Yes, there are always outliers and exceptions to every rule (and you should be aware if your character is one of those exceptions) but more often than not, teens text. I mean, phone calls aren't obsolete. I still call people. But, I wouldn't call them just to ask a single question. I'd text them for that. Also, texting vs. email? I can only vouch for myself and the people I've met, but I've yet to see a teen send an email to talk to someone vs. a text. (When I say talk to someone, I mean just random conversations. Emails are fine if they're being used to send info or links, etc.) I still see email conversations in manuscripts, and it confuses me a bit.

DON'T ever think that teens don't write in grammatically correct sentences. I know this was said above, but I just had to reiterate it because it's very important. Give your character some credit, here. They're a smart person. They can find the letters a, r, and e on the keyboard. (This is not saying that you shouldn't abbreviate things, I'm just pointing out that you don't have to.)

That basically sums up all the main points. All in all, sit down and have a texting conversation with the characters in your novel. If they all text the exact same way, you may need to look deeper into your characters and make sure that they're also not speaking and acting the same way. I've yet to meet someone in life that was my exact doppelganger. To find twenty people in your novel that are exactly like your MC is weird (unless you're writing a novel about cloning...). Your MC should be unique. Your secondary characters should be unique. Your random, dog walking tourists should be unique. Everyone should be unique, because every human being is unique.
party hard

If you have any specific questions about texting, please leave them in the comments section so that I can clear things up! If not, have an awesome Wednesday :)

- Melissa
This made me crack up so I had to include it!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

5 Most Common Grammatical Mistakes I've Seen in Critiques

Hello everyone!

I know that I'm somewhat deviating from the purpose of this blog, but I've read over 30 first chapters this past week and I figured I should share some of the most common mistakes I've seen. I'd suggest taking a look at these five points and then taking a look at your manuscript again. I just did and I caught some things that have been missed for over fifteen rounds of edits. So, without further ado, here I go:

1. Semicolon Usage


  (Wait, but wouldn't this make life so much easier?)

If anyone's ever gotten a critique from me, you probably know that my biggest pet peeve is semicolon misuse. There's a distinct possibility that you've heard me say this phrase at least 5 times: semicolons can only be used when they're followed by a complete sentence (assuming that the sentence before is also complete). Furthermore, the two sentences need to be linked by a common topic or idea. Here's an incorrect and a correct example:

Correct: I wasn't sure which dessert I should pick; they all sounded good.
Incorrect: All the desserts were wonderful; luscious, sweet, and yummy. 

2. Commas. Commas everywhere.



Commas are wonderful things. And sometimes, because they're so wonderful, we like to go comma happy.

"You get a comma! And you get a comma! Everyone gets a comma!"

Sometimes, though, we have to accept a terrible fact: we can't always use commas. We especially can't always use commas in place of periods. If we do, we end up with run-on sentences.

Incorrect: With my eyes glued to the trees in the distance, I didn't notice that the stairs outside the courthouse were right in front of me, my sneaker caught on the lip of the first step and gravity took hold, dragging me forward, my toes curled as I made a last ditch effort to hang onto the marble stone, my chest dipped forward, my feet slipped, I was staring at the lump of half dried bird crap my arm would definitely land in, it would be a long tumble to the ground.

General rule of thumb: keep your sentences to a length that makes it easy for them to be spoken in one breath. It's very difficult to say the previous example all in one breath, is it not? On top of that, it doesn't flow very well without periods. Which is odd, because periods usually break up the flow. But, it's true, right?

New version: With my eyes glued to the trees in the distance, I didn't notice that the stairs outside the courthouse were right in front of me. My sneaker caught on the lip of the first step and gravity took hold, dragging me forward. My toes curled as I made a last ditch effort to hang onto the marble stone. My chest dipped forward. My feet slipped. I was staring at the lump of half dried bird crap my arm would definitely land in. It would be a long tumble to the ground.

Isn't that much easier to say? This is one of the reasons why reading your manuscript out loud is a great suggestion. It'll draw attention to sentences that possibly go on for quite too long.
3. Punctuation of Dialogue

It would take a while to go into how to correctly punctuate dialogue, and this post is more about pointing the mistakes out, so I'll just list a few incorrect/correct examples.

Incorrect: "I really want some chocolate," She says.
Correct: "I really want some chocolate," she says.
Incorrect: "I really love cats." She says.
Correct: "I really love cats," she says.
Incorrect: "Am I punctuating this correctly?" My friend asks.
Correct: "Am I punctuating this correctly?" my friend asks.
Incorrect: "Semicolons are awesome," my mom gives me a thumbs up.
Correct: "Semicolons are awesome." My mom gives me a thumbs up.


4. Their, There, and They're; To vs Too; It's vs Its.



Quick rundown:

Their: shows ownership
They're: they are
There: location

To: toward, reaching as far as, until
Too: additionally, excessively, very, extremely

It's: it is
Its: belongs to it


5. Exclamation points



Yes, exclamation points aren't grammatical mistakes. Okay, fine, I admit it. However, I see them a lot. They're used most often to tell when a character is upset, mad, anxious, etc. Notice how I used the word tell and not show? I know everyone's probably tired of hearing the whole "show don't tell" thing. But, it's true. Exclamation points tend to tell the reader that the character is feeling some form of emotion. Which is fine. But, wouldn't it be better to show that the character is feeling that way?

Example 1: "I can't believe it!"
Example 2: "I can't believe it," I said, shoving a hand through my hair. I placed my other hand against my chest, trying to slow my heartbeat.

Sorry for these crappy examples; I kind of just wrote the first thing that came to mind.

And that's that! Thanks for reading! To those of you entering #PitchWars, best of luck! I hope this post was somewhat helpful. I'll have a post on Teens and Texting up within a few days.


If you haven't watched this yet, do it. Do it now. Here's the link if it doesn't show up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Gv0H-vPoDc

-Melissa

P.S. I'm figuratively quaking in my boots as I post this because I know for certain there has to be at least one grammatical mistake in this post...

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Teenagers Aren't Stupid

***If you're here for the 1st chapter critique, please read through the blog post first to understand why I'm doing this. Thanks!***

Teenagers aren't stupid.

Yes, I know this seems like a very basic and apparent statement, but it's not. I've gone through a lot of chapter swaps with other writers where multiple people read my first chapter and say, "I really like your premise and writing, but the main character isn't believable. Teens don't think in such a mature way."

Hold up. Let's take a look at that statement for a second. If you haven't figured this out yet or found your way to my bio, I'm an 18 year old girl. I write young adult fiction. My character's speak and act in ways that I would. My characters think and act in ways that my teenage friends and acquaintances would. So, to put it simply, these writers are telling me that, actually, I'm not a believable person because I speak the way my character's speak, and teens don't speak like that.

Oh, please.

This misconception about teenagers is a major pitfall I see in a lot of YA novels, published or unpublished. These writers will dumb down their characters. They will have them miss extremely obvious things. They'll have them make mistakes that teens stopped making back when they were two years old. They've decided that a teen's lack of worldly experience makes them stupid. This conclusion is demeaning and hurtful. Teenagers are people. They are intricate, complex beings that can think for themselves. When you take these characteristics away from them, you create characters that fall flat on the page.

And us teenagers are not stupid. When we read books, we can tell right away if the author gets teens or not. And I promise there are some that do! (Meg Cabot, Francine Pascal, Sarah Dessen, etc.) But most don't. 

This brings me to my concluding point: Teenagers are different than adults, but that does not make them lesser beings. This is a simple truth that YA writers need to understand if they want to create realistic characters that are involved in true-to-life situations.

So, in light of this and in honor of #pitchwars coming up, I'm offering 1st chapter critiques to any YA writer (I'm open to critiquing non-YA fiction, but the reason I'm critiquing YA is because I'm editing for voice.) who contacts me at melissaalbert95 (at) gmail (dot) com. I would like to openly state that I don't have credentials for editing other than that I understand the English language and that I am a writer. However, I do understand teens and the teenage voice. I understand how we think, act, and speak.

If this sounds like an interesting opportunity, shoot me an email. (All edits are confidential and will never be posted anywhere.) Please paste your query letter in the body of the email (just so I have a sense of what your story is about) and attach your first chapter as a word document. Also, I would suggest following me on Twitter (@MelissaAlbert27) because I'll be posting updates on where I am with critiques as well as when I've made a new blog post. In case it wasn't clear, I'll be using this blog to either dispel or confirm common thoughts about teens and what they say, do, and think. I'm not trying to toot my own horn, put myself on a pedestal, etc., but I really (hopefully) believe that this could be a valuable resource for YA writers.

Stay tuned for my next post: The Myths of Teenage Texting.

Woohoo, I've finished my first blog post! *wipes sweat from brow* Comments are always welcome! I hope to get a lot of emails for 1st chapter critiques!

-Melissa

P.S. Here's my bio if you want to verify that I'm a human being:

Melissa Albert is a young adult writer who is repped by Uwe Stender of TriadaUS. She majors in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at The College of New Jersey where she is going into her sophomore year. Her wonderful friends and family lovingly put up with her constantly zoning out as she tries to mentally fix plot holes in her stories. Lover of all YA fiction, she has three completed manuscripts, one of which is currently in rewrites. You can bribe her with anything chocolate or cat related. Feel free to contact her by email at melissaalbert95 (at) gmail (dot) com or on Twitter at MelissaAlbert27. She loves to talk all things writing, gymnastics, soccer, singing, acting, dancing...the list goes on and on!