What the fudgcicles? To cuss or not to cuss in YA fiction…

In every writing workshop I conduct, the topic of using swear words in teen fiction is a huge issue of debate, with people as polarized over the subject as the American legislature on the Affordable Healthcare Act. And I have to say, I’ve found both sides (on the swear word debate) to have valid reasons for believing the way they do.

On the pro side, I’ve found that teens in my workshops shrug their shoulders and often tell me that they use bad language all the time. “Why not use it in writing? It reflects reality,” they say. And I see so many aspiring writers who appear to do just that–have their characters use bad language in an effort to make them seem real. Cool. Edgy.

Then, on the other side of the debate, are those (often parents) who say, “Why expose my kids to this? They get enough of it every day.” Still others say it’s lazy writing, that curse words are used when the writer wants to sound tough but can’t think of any other way to achieve it.

I like to take a step back from the argument. I mean, I’m breaking up fights between toddlers on a daily basis; by noon each day, I’ve usually done a year’s worth of refereeing. I don’t like to take sides when I don’t have to. I’m a “let’s look at the situation” type of gal. So where do I weigh in on this issue?

After writing twelve novels (and counting) and having both used language and shied away from it in the past, I’ve learned this: your character and target audience will make the difference. For example, in the Teen Mobster Series, my target age range is eleven and up. Of course, it is the Mafia, which isn’t known for it’s, uh, gentlemanly behavior. But I found a way around it, telling my audience that men are “cursing” in the story without writing the actual words. Realistic, but still appropriate for the age range.

But in other books, especially more mature teen books (14+) that deal with contemporary issues (sexuality and bullying, for example–follow my Twitter handle to learn more about upcoming releases), sometimes a character displays his or her personality through the use of a curse word, or a character’s reaction to cursing tells the audience more about him or her. I try to use swearing sparingly, but with discretion, always wanting a novel that deals with critical issues to feel authentic to the readers it’s meant to touch.

So the decision is yours. Just remember what Ernest Hemingway said:

“…Try and write straight English; never using slang except in dialogue and then only when unavoidable. Because all slang goes sour in a short time.”

Cheers.

How many words to write…a creative person’s lesson in time management

I am a writer. That means that while I do many things, my mind is in Never Never Land, working out the stories in my head. If it sounds a little crazy, that’s because…well…it is.

I discuss my writing habits with many people, and because I have small children and several endeavors in development, the fact that I have completed no less than seven novels in two and half years may sound impressive (twelve overall, with six under contract with Bluewood Publishing and the rest of my work now represented by Dee Mura Literary). But the thing is, anyone can accomplish certain word counts. The tough job is ensuring that what’s coming through the tips of my fingers is quality. This doesn’t always happen on the first go around, and usually the editing process hones the story and makes it sing.

However, even though I’m a creative writer, I am organized. That doesn’t mean my house is filled with perfectly stacked, labeled storage bins. If only. But it does mean that I make lists, and plenty of them. And generally, except for the grocery list that disappears to its own version of Never Never Land right before I reach the store, these lists help me organize my wild and crazy life.

But whether you’re the OCD poster child or more of a “What? It’s midnight already and I just got out of my pajamas!” type , managing time, especially time for writing, can be achieved. Here’s a few methods for fitting that book into your life–no matter how busy.

Review your free time – Think of it this way: the time of day you’d be watching your favorite shows or surfing social media is free time. Try to calculate how much time you spend doing it. This is time that can go directly to your writing. Now, I’ll caution that you should definitely set time aside to read, especially in the genre you’re writing. And, if you absolutely must watch the finale of the Bachelorette, just DVR it. Those commercials are stealing your life away.

Organize your story – From my experience, if I know where I’m going, I’ll get there faster. You don’t have to possess a comprehensive outline, and actually, spending too much time outlining can distract from what really needs to be done–yeah, writing. But when I know what big scenes are coming and a good idea of how I want to reach them, the words flow faster. This also pertains to research–taking time to get it done (visiting locales, interviewing specialists, reading nonfiction material) will only speed up the storytelling process.

Take a break; strengthen relationships. I could always be writing. It’s a hard switch to turn off. In fact, I carry a notebook everywhere to jot down ideas as they come to me. But I need to turn off the brain faucet from time to time–and I do. My family and friends, my health, and my other odd-but-awesome jobs (Edmond Sun‘s Mom Around Town and Metropolitan Library System writing classes) are priorities that can’t be shirked. Developing strong relationships as a writer sits at the top of my list, because not only can writing be a lonely profession, but I write better people when I spend time with people. I also write more hopeful stories from living a full and positive life (despite the setbacks, heartbreak, and tragedy that are inherent in life), and at the end of the day, that’s the kind of thing I want to put out there.

So don’t worry. Be happy, and write on:)

My favorite guests at a writer’s workshop

Every month or so, I teach a writing workshop, and I find that just like when I coached skating, my own mastery of the craft improves as I review the fundamentals. So as I gear up for my next gig (Jumpstart Your Novel Class), I find that I’m excited to get in touch with some old friends. Those friends, in no particular order, are an eye-catching opening scene, expert character development, active description, effortless dialogue, the build-up to a nail-biting climax, and of course, the perfect marketing plan.

Let me give you their bios:

Eye-catching Opening Scene – Although sometimes overlooked as being “just the beginning,” no other element of your story will be more influential in catching the ever-roving eye of an agent or editor. So it better sparkle. Or crackle. Or sizzle. Or all of the above.

Expert Character Development – A character who doesn’t struggle with any internal demons, well, just wouldn’t be human. Although this story element can often seem a bit cumbersome, it is essential for any novel. Any and all action should stem from your character development AND develop your character further. Don’t understand what I mean? Read on.

Active Description – Taken by themselves, action and description appear to be polar opposites. Action is so, well, fast, whereas description is often slow and deliberate. Put them together, though, and you have a match made in heaven. Just think of how you take in a setting. You don’t stand in a room and note the color of the walls, the light fixtures, or the volume of the room all at once. You experience these things as you go.

Effortless Dialogue – I hate a run of dialogue followed by the perfunctory he said/she said. I also hate dialogue with no tags, making me count lines to remember who said what. Feeling that dialogue is woven easily into the story is essential for good writing, and it should exist in conjunction with action and expression (read Sarah Dessen for good examples). As a former communication major, a point that was pounded into this little brain was that most of human communication is nonverbal. It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it. That said, beware of adverbs in dialogue tags. Most editors hate’em. Just so you know.

The Build-up to a Nail-biting Climax – Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. You can deviate if you want, but just keep in mind that almost all successful stories follow this format in some way. Seem elementary? It’s not as easy as you think. Your characters will go through an arc, just as the story climbs up and down one as well. As a teen fiction writer, every scene I write builds on the last and builds toward the ending. If it doesn’t add to your story’s premise or a character’s development, you don’t need it.

The Perfect Marketing Plan – This should never be the last guest at your little writing-party. Why? Because it’s super important if you want to succeed. Before that first sentence goes on paper, ask yourself this: Who is my audience? What other books like mine are out there? Have I read these books? Can I write this subject-matter in a new, interesting way? Who will I try to sell this to? Who would publish it?

Once you have all these elements assembled, go forth and write! Just remember to circle back and review them every once in a while. It never hurts to stay on track:)