Diversity in Writing

Earlier this week was International Women’s Day. While using my incredibly bad artistic skills to draw a picture of all the main characters from my books celebrating, I noticed how different many of them were. All different heights and shapes, all with different personalities, but what stood out to me the most was the array of different colored faces.

Since I started writing novels at sixteen, I made a promise to myself that I’d have “something for everyone.” I wanted every person to like at least one of my books, so I set out doing all different genres, from comedy to horror, from fantasy to action. I also wanted to have characters with different backgrounds, from rich to homeless, from regular two-parent households to those with single parents or being raised by someone else. I’ve had characters that were adopted, characters that lost a sibling, and characters with up to five siblings.

Most importantly, my goal was to feature characters of different races and abilities. So far, I’ve made main characters that are Armenian, Native American, Asian, African American, Latina, and in my upcoming book, Indian.

Diverse doesn’t necessarily have to mean a different race, it can also be someone who goes through life differently than us, from a mental illness to reduced mobility. Two of my main characters suffer from a physical issue, like Lia who is blind and Violet who is a little person. I’ve also had characters with mental health issues, like Arabella with social anxiety and Freya with depression. Billions of people go through life with the same issues, and I want them to have relatable characters too.

I started thinking about famous modern novels, ones that you see or here about everywhere and have been adapted into movies. Most, if not all, of the main characters are similar. It makes me wonder why there aren’t more ultra-famous novels starring characters of different backgrounds. Mental health issues seem to be covered, but main characters with a physical disability are few and far between. When you think about it, our world is diverse. In a room full of people no one looks the same, so why should our characters?

Illiteracy in America

Although it isn’t well-known, March is National Reading Awareness Month. Largely partnered with  an organization called ReadAloud, who aims to have each parent across the country read aloud to their child for 15 minutes a day, I believe the main goal of Reading Awareness Month is to bring awareness to illiteracy and when we can do to help those who are illiterate.

Illiteracy is an epidemic that I personally care about very much, especially as an author. In college, my sorority’s philanthropy was focused on literacy. We went into schools and worked with underprivileged children who had trouble reading. Illiteracy is something that needs to be talked about.

Here are some facts about illiteracy in the US that you may not know (via the Literacy Project Foundation):

  • 44 million adults can not read a simple story to their children
  • Approximately 50% of Americans can not read well enough to perform a simple task, like reading a product label
  • 20% of Americans read below the level needed to earn a living wage
  • 3 out of 4 people on welfare can’t read
  • 85% of juvenile offenders have trouble reading

We’re constantly reading, no matter where we are. It’s hard to imagine how different our world would be if we couldn’t read. Thankfully, there’s a lot that can be done.

What You Can Do To Help: 

  • volunteer to read at your local library
  • read to someone younger than you, like a sibling or children you babysit
  • donate the books you’ve finished reading to charities, like First Book, who give them to the underprivileged

I hope this post was able to open your eyes to the problem our country faces with illiteracy. We can all do our part to help those who cannot read.

How to Stay Interested in Your Book

Imagine having a great idea for a book, but not necessarily planning out the whole thing. You’ve got your setting and main character, you know what is going to happen to them throughout the book, but you start writing and just don’t feel that same passion. This happened to me once, and I hope it never happens again.

Writing a book you’re not passionate about can be a total drag. Of course, if you have OCD about finishing your books like I do, you can’t just stop writing it. After suffering through the writing process of a book I didn’t feel connected to, I devised a list of five ways to change your book so that you can not only make it to that last-chapter finish line, but have fun getting there!

1. Go Outside Your Comfort Zone

There’s nothing more interesting than writing something you haven’t done before and have no idea about. It’s fun to research and then apply what you’ve learned into your book. In my current novel, Fangs and Fortune, my main character Taliah is an expectant mother. I chose to go this route because, well, I’ve never done it before! It’s helped me get excited about the book and learn about something I didn’t know much about.

2. Write About Something Close to You

Grief, loss, and trauma happens to everyone at some point in life. If you can’t think of a struggle for your character, try incorporating something that was difficult for you in life. Maybe they were bullied or had anxiety. Maybe they lost a loved one or were a victim of a crime. If your character shares the same experience, no one knows how they feel better than you.

3. It’s Okay to Change Course

My action story, Saving Flight 926, was originally going to be the thrilling tale of my main character Arabella, an aviation-obsessed 17-year-old, landing a plane full of people and becoming a hero. When the plane landed on page 30, I knew I had to have a different approach. The second half of the story describes her struggle with PTSD. If something isn’t working in your story, just try something else!

4. Bring Out Your Fun and Crazy Characters

Now I’m not talking actual characters here. I’m talking about real people. In high school, I loved incorporating people I knew into my stories (and sometimes still do). Bringing in people from your real life takes away the process of having to think of personalities for all your characters, and for me, was a ton of fun to write. I loved incorporating common things they said and their personality traits. Just be sure to have them go through a name change.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

We all like to think of ourselves as novel-writing geniuses. And then we hit writer’s block. After the plane landed in Saving Flight 926 and Arabella was home with her family, I had no idea what to do! So, I reached out to some friends for help. One said, “Why don’t you have her struggle with PTSD?” It was the “eureka” moment for me. I never even thought of that! I truly believe that it would have taken me so much longer to finish that book if it weren’t for the help from my friend. Friends and family help us when we’re stuck in life. They also help when we get stuck on books, so reach out to them!

 

 

Five Steps to Help Start Your First Novel

When I tell people that I’m a writer, sometimes I get the response, “Oh, I’ve always had this great idea for a book!” or “I started a book years ago that I just never finished.” 

Writing a book and then finishing it is an incredible feeling. I’m always excited and extremely proud every time I finish a book. I want everyone to experience the joy of writing a book. 

If it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, here are five steps to get started on your book writing journey. 

Step One: Plotting Your Plot

Before writing books myself, I thought writers instantly thought of their whole story when they got an idea. A lot of my stories came from just a sentence, like, “I wonder what living in a mobile home park is like?” or “This is so good, it’s like I died and went to Heaven!” As long as you have an idea, your plot will build around that. 

Step Two: Insert Main Character Here

I would say don’t just think of who is starring in your story, but what their aspirations are and how they’ll change at the end of the story. 

Sometimes writers name their characters accordingly with what they do in the story. In my book Saving Flight 926, my main character’s name means “heroine”. It’s fitting for a girl who saves the lives of her classmates. 

Step Three: This is InTENSEifying! 

A story can either be told in past or present tense. Personally I just prefer past becuase it’s easier, but I have written a story in present tense. If your story is full of “in-the-moment” action, you may lean toward present tense. 

Step Four: You, Me, or a Fly on the Wall? 

After picking your characters, decide how you want your story to be told. Point of view, or POV, can be in first, second, or third person (aka the fly on the wall perspective). I prefer first person because I feel like I can better connect with my characters that way. If you want to be more neutral, choose third person. Writing a choose-your-own-adventure story? Then second person is the way to go. 

Step Five: Sitting Down to Type

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when starting that first chapter. Sometimes writing can be so scary that you don’t want to start. Just remember that this is a first draft, and it’s okay for it to not be perfect. 

So don’t worry when writing your first novel! It may seem scary or overwhelming at first, by following these steps and writing a little at a time, you’ll be on track to finishing your first novel in no time! 


Warning: Construction Zone

This morning I thought of the analogy that editing a story is like renovating a house. You may think that you’re only doing some cosmetic changes like a new floor and a fresh coat of paint, when really, you are suddenly motivated and find yourself changing the entire layout of the house and building an addition.

This is what I have discovered while working on my story Misconception this week.

I went into editing hoping to just give the book a quick refresh, fixing grammar, changing some sentences, and lightly touching on the plot of the story. Well guess what? I found myself deleting almost an entire chapter and writing two new ones.

The goal of this was to make the story appear more logical, (since everyone knows what a stickler I am for trying to have my stories make sense.) So, without spoiling the end, here’s what’s changed in Misconception this week:

1. Introducing the Candlelight Vigil: 

Originally, chapter 8 featured a small few paragraphs about Taliah, our main character, attending the memorial service for Molly, the girl she supposedly killed, during the day at a park on the college’s property.

I got myself thinking, “Wait. How could the school have a memorial service if they weren’t entirely sure that Molly was dead?” No body was ever found. If the school didn’t know that she was dead, a memorial service would make no sense.

This is where the vigil comes into play. Readers are introduced to Megan and Giovanna, two friends of Molly who make two very different speeches about their “missing” friend. This is the game changer that caused the entire layout of my analytical house to be changed.

2. Everybody Knows Something New:

Before writing the vigil chapter, readers and Taliah thought that Molly was of course, dead. Now we all learn at the vigil that that is not the case. This requires me to write a brand new ending, as well as some searching scenes.

3. Beware The Vampire Hunter:

Chapter 8 started with the memorial scene and included the entire vampire hunter scene. This was of course, changed to expand on the vigil and include a bit of Taliah looking downtown for Molly.

Originally, Taliah was invited to a fake “faculty party” to lure her into a banquet hall where she would battle the vampire hunter. She essentially walks into an empty room at first before the lights go out.

Taliah is a lot smarter than that, so I had to put in a little more effort to try and convince my vampire gal that there was a possibility of a party going on. This included a lady near the doors handing out name tags, two doormen (who chain the doors shut after she enters) and speakers throughout the room with recorded voices on them. So, as Taliah descends down the long hallway towards the hall, she hears the noise and starts to believe that there may actually be a party.

Stay tuned for next Sunday’s update! I can’t wait to see what new ideas I’ll come up with as I keep working this week.

Why Real Critics Shouldn’t be “Sugar Coating”

A while back when I first started doing critiques on Wattpad, I noticed a common trend in the posts of the advertising critics. This trend was usually at the bottom, and was under the caption “Sugar Coating.” These critics wrote in their post things like, “I will sugar coat” or “Please let me know how much sugar coating you would like.”

I was baffled. If they weren’t going to be giving honest reviews, then what were they doing? Well, when you look at it, being a Wattpad critic is a great way to get follows or reads on your own story.

Then again, I’m sure that many critics know the backlash we receive when someone doesn’t like what we have to say. I’ve been called a “bully” and a bunch of other names by Wattpadders.

The thing is, we shouldn’t let that stop us. There is no way on earth that I’m going to stop telling people what is wrong with their story because I don’t want them to get upset, or hurt their feelings. I’m not saying you should be a jerk when you go out and critique someone’s story, but you definitely shouldn’t be super nice.

By doing this “sugar coating” and giving them nice feedback when their story actually stinks, you’re only damaging the writer. That doesn’t help them improve and could even lead to cockiness. Because let’s face it, when people tell us our stories are really good, it bumps up our ego a notch.

Ending point: Don’t sugar coat. Be yourself when you critique. If you’re not giving helpful feedback, you might as well not give it at all.

 

Things You Definitely Shouldn’t do if You Want Beta Readers

After four days of completing my first round of edits on my story Knowing You’re There, I am on to the next step in the publishing process: getting beta readers. While I’d love to have a great post for you guys about how successful I’ve been, I have the exact opposite. So, I’ll use my failed attempts to have a laugh and help you guys as well.

So here are five things to NOT do in the process of finding beta readers:

1. Ask Your Friends

This so far just hasn’t been successful for me. If my friends were in the writing field, not busy college students, and were being paid, you would probably have more luck.

2. Ask Your Relatives

I just haven’t even attempted this one after my past outcomes. Three years ago, all I asked my sister for Christmas was to read my short novella Euphoria on Wattpad. I gave her three months to read the 80 page book. Instead, I got a Spongebob DVD. My mom has not read a sentence of Saving Flight 926, the book I started in January.

3. Beg

If your current beta readers aren’t committed, they’re still not going to do it, even when you beg. If they’re busy or uninterested, they’re not going to do it.

4. Not Explain Your Deadlines

While I’m not a beta reader expert and really am kicking myself for not researching more on the topic, surely everyone needs a time where their beta readers should be finished. If you don’t give them a deadline, they may think they’ll have unlimited time. I literally just explained this to my boyfriend, who had no idea.