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Brett Michael Orr

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Writing Tips

Where I share tips and tricks for fellow prospective writers, from famous sources and from the community itself.

Heroines in YA Novels

Young Adult is a booming genre in the literary world, an unstoppable juggernaut that refuses to back down. A few weeks ago I discussed What YA novels are, and part of their success is easily attributed to the way YA novels tear down societal and cultural preconceptions.

YA’s most distinctive feature – aside from its targeted focus on teenagers – is the prevalence of female main characters. Not only do girls frequently feature as leading stars, but they have quickly become symbols of feminism and anti-sexism around the world.

Over the years, male YA characters have had their fair share of the limelight, from the most famous like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson or Alex Rider to more recent series like Half-Bad, The Maze Runner and Inheritance.

But there is undoubtedly a far greater number of heroines in YA literature than male heroes – this might, in part, be due to the ratio of female authors to male authors.

As a male writer and blogger, I am distinctly aware of how rare I am, and I respect that the vast majority of my beta-readers and followers are women; but more than simply providing an associable main character, heroines are an excellent example of how established cultural tropes can be turned on their heads.

For me, part of a heroine’s appeal is her range of emotions. Rightly or wrongly, male characters tend to be rugged and stoic, rarely showing more to their emotions than a handful of stock-purchased attributes from the Writer Store of Tropes. This isn’t always a bad thing of course – depending on the genre (for instance, Epic Fantasy), a leading man who is indefatigable in the force of impending doom is par for the course.

But YA is relatively new, and it is a highly dynamic genre.

YA changes from year-to-year, responding to real-world demands and opinions, often changing to tackle cultural issues of the time. In this new age, old-school tropes and clichés are falling by the wayside in favor of showing how things really are.

To this end, heroines provide a complex character with effortless room to grow. Arguably, one of the ‘best known’ heroines is Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games. She first drew attention to the way that a female could actually lead a plot (as a primary POV, rather than being a secondary character like Hermione Granger or Annabeth Chase), but rather than simply acting like a boy with long hair, Katniss played a shifting emotional role that was believable. She was a frustrated but loyal daughter; a dependable and brave sister; a fighter, a leader, a figurehead for a revolution. Her expressive range was not limited to merely being angry or sad – she was everything in-between, and this was the key that unlocked the floodgates for heroines.

In the years since, YA has veritably exploded with the number of heroines, each adding their own unique twist to the formula that was gone before them. Heroines are integral to the plot of their YA novels, tying together romance, action, emotion, and growth – pillars of literature that have proven themselves over and again.

As a male reader and writer, I’m not ashamed to admit that I prefer female main characters to men – there should be no stereotype or judgement on behalf of either author or reader.

I prefer the more expressive palette of female characters, and in this time of societal upheaval, my support for female authors and characters is representative of my belief that the established roles for men and women should be given a serious shakeup.

This goes the other way too – I thoroughly enjoy seeing girls take on the roles of ‘action hero’, and by the same measure, I wish that more male characters were allowed to show emotion, rather than being relegated to muscled heroes with the ’emotional range of a teaspoon’ (to quote one of my favorite lines from Hermione Granger herself).

So what are your favorite heroines?

Of all the books I’ve read, my favorite heroines are: Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games), Marguerite Caine (A Thousand Pieces of You), Mare Barrow (Red Queen), Chan (Way Down Dark), and Risa (Unwind).

I took to Twitter to ask for your favorite heroines.

The overwhelming result was: Celaena Sardothien of Throne of Glass.

However there were dozens of other choices, and you can see the impressive response my tweet gathered below:

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What an amazing response for YA heroines – not only am I impressed by the number and variety of heroines, but by the enthusiastic response from my followers. Thank you so very much to everyone who participated and voted!

This list is really just the tip of an ever-spreading iceberg. Heroines – much like YA itself – aren’t going anywhere, and in fact, we are only now seeing some of the most well-written female characters in the history of young adult literature.

I am excited to see this new wave of fiction that champions the abilities of girls without resorting to ‘girl fiction’; instead, YA books with female leads can oftentimes be far more engaging and exciting than male-led fiction. And at the same time, young girls reading books for the first time will be exposed to powerful characters who can help lead them into a new future where old-world stereotypes are nothing but a half-remembered past.

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please consider sharing via Twitter, and discuss what your favorite heroines are!

Title image credit to Shaun Fisher of Flickr under the CC-BY license.

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Opinion: Writers Deserve More Respect

A few days ago, Twitter did what it does best, and invented a hashtag that stormed through the millions of interconnected devices and into our homes, offices, and study spaces. The #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter hashtag (which then turned into half a dozen other tags) was typical Twitter fare – part sarcasm, part venting, part sincerity, part honest truth.

Even writing this post, the hashtag was still churning over new tweets, and had several well-written and intelligent articles such as this one from the Huffington Post.

Many of the tweets focused on some of the ignorant and hurtful things that non-writers say to us – such as the off-hand comments based on loosely-written internet articles about the supposed plight of the written word:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsWhile others were directed at the more-condescending-than-helpful friends/family/strangers we all (unfortunately) know:

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And of course, the most dreaded (and hated) sentence that all writers have to endure, the sheer cringe-inducing opinion that, apparently, everyone would be a writer if only they didn’t have such important lives:

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The hashtag wasn’t just an excuse for writers to spend more time on Twitter, but an opportunity for us to vent and hopefully shed light on some of the prejudice and assumptions leveled against us.

Writing is Hard, and We Know It

I’m the first to admit that writers are a quirky bunch. We have our own groups, our own community, our own lingo. We hijack social media systems to create our own interconnected web of friends (such as #Bookstagram on Twitter, which now has over 1.3 million posts of books).

We have a unique passion, and we work in a difficult industry, one where success is often-sought and little-received. It is, at times, a depressing and difficult path to lead – and we all understand that. We are often our greatest critic, and that’s before our manuscripts have even gone out to beta readers or critique partners for the real feedback.

Every writer knows exactly what they’re in for – we don’t need other people to beat us down, because we do that to ourselves every day.

Writing is a hard business. It requires a lot of time, many late nights, a roller coast of emotions, and hopefully – just maybe – a very faint light at the end of a very long, and dark tunnel. We work hard for our passion. We dedicate endless hours to reading books on the art of writing, to discussing and bettering ourselves; we are willing to improve.

We aren’t asking for our books to be published – we’re willing to make sacrifices and improve ourselves to reach our goal.

Anywhere else in life, that kind of dedication would be admired and championed. Many writers start blogging and writing in their very early teens, and continue through into their twenties; I dabbled with writing during my teens, but it took me a few years of a university degree in an unrelated field to realize what my true passion and purpose in life was.

Respect Starts with Saying ‘We Believe In You’

Writers aren’t afforded the same respect though. We aren’t placed in the same basket of ‘self-improvement’ heroes, idolized for our efforts and bravery in the face of incredibly unlikely odds; instead, we face criticism from friends, family and society.

Many people do have supporting friends and families. But it’s very rare to find anyone – even loved ones – who don’t have their private reservations, their own hidden suspicions that it’s merely a ‘hobby’, something to be done ‘on the side.’

For the vast majority of writers, our passion is considered a ‘diversion’ – just check the hashtag and you’ll see that opinion expressed countless times over. It’s as though writing is for other people, not for us, but for people with some magical gift or ‘someone they know’ (another terrible piece of ‘advice’ that gets bandied around).

But on my post last week, I mentioned how authors – many, like Veronica Roth, are just in their early twenties – are moving into the rich lists; and that’s not even mentioning J.K. Rowling (despite some concerns about her wealth, she’s still impossibly rich).

Sure, every writer won’t become a King or a Rowling, but there are literally millions of authors in the world with thousands of loyal fans, living quite a decent life and pursuing their love of writing books.

With dedication and persistence, any writer can become a published author. The sad fact is – many writers quit long before they can get anywhere serious, all from a lack of confidence.

So, What’s It All About Then?

This all circles back to one point, again and again.

Amateur writers aren’t treated with respect.

Sure, once you become wealthy and have films made from your books, people will praise you, but for the fourteen-year-old high-school student who wants to pursue writing, or for the eighteen-year-old university student who is considering switching their degree to focus on creative writing, there’s a tough battle ahead.

Twitter responded to itself with #TenThingsToSayToAWriter, highlighting all of the positive things that writers need to hear. We aren’t asking for hourly text messages of encouragement but simply respect and support for what we believe in.

All any writer really wants is acknowledgement and support – we want people to respect the difficulty and the sacrifices of writing, and to believe in us.

Writing isn’t a hobby, but a passion – a commitment to ourselves and to this community we love so much. We’re attempting to become better people, to produce a piece of fiction that might be read around the world.

It’s not merely something we do, but something we are, and that makes it one of the most challenging – and most rewarding – of all pursuits in life.

How do you feel about being a writer? Do you think writers need to be respected more? What ways can writers help gain the recognition and support they need?

Leave a comment below, and thank you for reading!

What is…YA?

Hello! Welcome to the first in a series of posts highlighting various genres and concepts inside the writing world. I’ll be opening the floor to questions and suggested articles at the end of this post, and I’d love to hear your thoughts too.

Today’s topic – what is Young Adult fiction?

An Unstoppable Force

As a genre, it feels like YA is now one of the most pervasive genres out there – in fact, its success has catapulted authors like John Green and Veronica Roth into the Forbes Celebrity 100 list.

Though the ‘adult’ fiction market still continues to go steady, it’s undeniable that YA is dominating the market in the best possible way.

So what is YA? If you’re asking me, I would define YA as:

“A genre featuring mid-to-late teenage characters and concepts, with a focus on character growth and self-identification.”

Traditionally, YA has always been ‘targeted’ to teenage readers, but the genre has been pushing the boundaries of its age category. YA no longer means that only teenagers should read it (and I’ll get to that point soon), but instead, simply that the characters are aged in their mid to late teens. There are some great benefits of having teenage characters too.

YA no longer means that only teenagers should read it…

Why YA?

Aside from the obvious fact that YA is a booming commercial market, there are some excellent reasons to choose YA as a genre:

Everyone was a teenager: This might sound silly, but it’s true. At some point, we’ve all been teenagers – whether you’re 15 now, or 19, or even in your twenties and thirties. Your teenage years really form the basis of who you are later in life, so from a writing perspective, it allows us the most amount of character growth.

Readers can suspend their disbelief: When reading, we often have to ignore certain real-world assumptions and practicalities. We place ‘adult’ characters in higher regard and expect them to act logically because of their life experience – with teenagers, we have something of a ‘blank slate’ to work with, and that helps make the plot more dynamic too.

First Times: Similar to the last point, teenage characters let us believably handle ‘first time’ events. These can range from the ordinary – a first kiss, a new school, first car – to the more dramatic – first time shooting a gun, first time fighting, etc.

Best Known For…

There are thousands of YA titles around. The genre is one of the largest in the industry, but just thirty years ago, it was hardly ever heard of.

According to Wikipedia, the real ‘golden age’ of Young Adult started in the 1980s, but I think many readers would agree that the modern generation of YA novels have really only taken off in the past decade.

Undeniably, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was a great boost to the YA genre. Her series started in 1997 as a Middle-Grade fiction about 11-year-old wizards and witches, and carried through into their teenage years – allowing the audience to ‘grow up’ with the characters. The Giver – released four years earlier – would also appear to be highly influential, especially in the dystopian side of YA’s roots.

Everything after that is history: The Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent, Maze Runner, Unwind, Throne of Glass, Mortal Instruments, and new releases like A Thousand Pieces of You, Spark, Way Down Dark and An Ember in the Ashes are just some of the many, many hundreds of popular YA novels – and that’s without even mentioning John Green, or the works of Anthony Horowitz (Alex Rider) and Australian authors like Garth Nix (The Old Kingdom).

“It’s a fantastic win-win situation. People watch the movies and go read the books; and original fans of the books are interested to see their beloved characters appear on-screen.”

Outside of the Western market, YA can be found in Japanese manga – the Shonen Jump publication gave way to popular teenage-targeted series like Dragon Ball, Bleach, Fullmetal Alchemist, One Piece and many more (some of which, like Attack on Titan, will be receiving proper box-office adaptations). They typically star teen-aged protagonists struggling to cope with their world being turned upside down.

Movie adaptations of YA novels have been storming through the box-office in recent years, with many of the series I listed already having entire movie franchises dedicated to them. It’s a fantastic win-win situation. People watch the movies and go read the books; and original fans of the books are interested to see their beloved characters appear on-screen. The Mortal Instruments had a rocky start to the big-screen, but has nicely recovered by landing its own television series, Shadowhunters!

YES, Adults Can Read YA

YA still has one hurdle to surmount – a stigma that YA is only for teenagers. The genre unfortunately chose to use the word ‘young’ and as such, many adults shy away from the genre. Articles like this are just one example of the demeaning way that some – not all, but some – adults look down on the YA genre. Frankly, the vitriol that ‘grownup’ writers and reviewers direct at YA can be almost sickening at times, and especially insulting given the tremendous success of young authors.

It’s disappointing and needs to be addressed. There’s nothing inherently ‘childish’ about YA, and in fact, if you read any of the books I mentioned, the amount of graphic content involved would rival many adult novels anyway. Some of the most amazing storylines and worlds can be found in the pages of YA novels, and the faith that large movie studios put in YA novels is proof enough that they are truly accessible to all age categories.

#LoveYA

Young Adult is definitely one of my favorite genres at the moment, especially because of its sheer variety and depth of characters. There are so many rich worlds out there to dive into, and the amazing YA community will always be there to help pick out the next incredible book for you to read!

So that’s my look into Young Adult fiction – what do you think? Do you agree/disagree with my analysis of YA? Do you think ‘adult’ writers/readers should give YA more credit? What’s been some of your favorite YA novels?
Leave a comment down below! If you have a suggestion for my next What is… post, please let me know!

Thanks for reading!

777 Challenge

The lovely Heather of SemiLegacy has tagged me for the 777 Challenge, where I share 7 lines from the 7th page of my current WIP, and tag 7 other bloggers to do the same!

These lines come from The Bureau of Time, my current YA SF manuscript!

The monsters stepped forward, steel knives held down low.

She turned and bolted towards the far end of the field, her feet sinking into the artificial turf and the slush of melted snow. It felt like she was running through thick oil. Every step took more effort than the last, her legs burning, her lungs screaming for oxygen. She kept her eyes on the horizon, that strip of blue, the color of freedom—

Another burst of energy hurled her backwards and she hit the ground, her head smacking into the turf. Red spots danced before her vision.

And now to challenge other people!

Mariella Hunt | Katie Nichols | Kayla (MindCrazed) | Briana Morgan | Julia Byers | Adriana Gabrielle | Rachana (InkyLove)

Novel Playlist: The Bureau of Time

Hi everyone! A few days ago, blogger Briana Morgan came up with a nifty idea – a writing playlist that she listens to when writing her Wattpad novel, BLOOD AND WATER. I’m currently editing my own WIP, THE BUREAU OF TIME, and decided to make my own playlist, hosting it on Spotify for everyone to enjoy!

Continue reading “Novel Playlist: The Bureau of Time”

Writing Tips & Tricks – With Guest, Alyssa Carlier

Today I’m teaming up with the wonderful Alyssa Carlier of Random Morbid Insanity, to discuss some tips for writers in all stages of their novel, from the initial planning and outlining, all the way through to polishing your manuscript before submission.

Continue reading “Writing Tips & Tricks – With Guest, Alyssa Carlier”

Word Counts of Popular YA Books

As I started drafting my new WIP – a YA sci-fi thriller – I began wondering what word count I should aim for. Writing towards a word count might not work for everybody, but having a rough goal in mind certainly helps me when I’m sketching out chapters and undertaking my first draft.

Unfortunately, word counts aren’t easy to find. There are various methods you can try, but even companies like Amazon only offer the page count (which varies by edition). Even more frustrating is the conflicting information from online sources – if you really want your novel to ‘fit’ within the genre, it’s helpful to know the ‘proper’ length of the competition.

This post unlocks the word counts of some popular YA series.

Continue reading “Word Counts of Popular YA Books”

Show Don’t Tell Explained

“Show, don’t tell.”

It’s the rule hammered into writers from the internet, their critique partners, their agents and editors; it’s so commonly repeated and shouted, written in red pen and scrawled in manuscript margins, that the phrase itself has started to lose meaning. And perhaps the most frustrating thing for most new or beginning writers, is that the rule is never clearly explained.

Show Don’t Tell has become a stone-chiseled commandment that is supposed to be understood by all who put pen to paper, but ultimately, it’s not quite so self-explanatory as one would hope. In this post, I’ll simply and easily break down Show Don’t Tell and show you how to apply it in your work.

Continue reading “Show Don’t Tell Explained”

#SFFpit – The Science/Fantasy Pitching Event

Hello everyone! I haven’t posted in a while – last week was dominated by Brenda Drake’s fantastic #PitMad event, and tomorrow, on the 9th of December, Dan Koboldt has organized the twice-annual Science and Fantasy pitching event, just for writers of those two genres.

The event runs from 7 A.M. Central Time (US) to 7 P.M. Central Time (US).

Everyone with a completed and unpublished (in any format) manuscript is welcome to join, and over on Dan’s site, you can find the full list of compatible genre hashtags to use. You can post up to twice per hour, and please remember that Twitter’s duplicate policy means identical tweets will be deleted.

If you’re using schedulers (like me), make sure that all tweets are subtly different. It only needs to differ by one character to work.

And one final thing: retweet don’t favorite!

Agents will favorite pitches they like, so please don’t get your friends’ hopes up by favoriting their work – retweet it if you want to show support.

That’s all for now, hope to see you out there!

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