Vlog: How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is a week away! So for those of you scrambling to get ready for the big event, here are some NaNo preparation tips.


What NaNo preparation tips would you add to the list?

Twitter-sized bite:
Getting ready for #NaNoWriMo? Author @Ava_Jae vlogs 5 ways to get ready for the big event. (Click to tweet)

Are Your Characters Flawed?

Photo credit: Jenavieve on Flickr
Every once in a while, I fall into the trap of loving my characters too much. By this I don't mean that I don't put them through hell twice-over—I can't think of a single manuscript where that was a problem for me *insert evil smiley face*—instead, I mean sometimes I forget about something rather important: flaws.

More times than not, this happens for secondary characters—the best friend, the love interest, the people that, for all intents and purposes, you're supposed to love. Sometimes, for these characters, I do such a great job making them lovable that I forget they're not actually supposed to be perfect until a reader pokes me and asks what their flaw is and I can't answer.

Whenever this happens, I open up my copy of The Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (the geniuses behind The Emotion Thesaurus). It has an enormously long list of possible character flaws, with descriptions of each flaw, what causes it, what it may lead to, etc. which often helps inspire me when it comes to developing flaws that make sense for the character.

And that is the key there: the flaw should fit organically into your character so that it doesn't feel tacked on or ill-fitting. It wouldn't make sense, for example, for Sherlock Holmes to be obtuse or not think through his actions—but his arrogance and bluntness definitely makes sense for who he is.

It's definitely important to remember flaws when creating characters, because characters without them start to feel too perfect—and consequently too unrealistic—if you're not careful. And besides, a character well-balanced with flaws can create new opportunities for tension and conflict, which is always a pretty nice bonus.

What are some of your favorite flawed characters?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Are your characters flawed? @Ava_Jae talks the importance of balanced character development. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: Will You NaNo This Year?

Photo credit: Kwintin on Flickr
There are ten days left before NaNoWriMo (and ten days left to implement pre-NaNo tips)! Which is pretty incredible to think about, and a little intimidating, and also exciting because NaNoWriMo is nearly here!

I finished revising my WIP and sent it off this week, which means I've met my deadline with time to spare, which means NaNoWriMo is in my future this year! YAY! I'm really excited to dive into the new story world and play with third person, which I haven't done in ages, and just feed off the NaNo excitement in general. It's been a great experience when I participated in the past, and I very much look forward to it again. Which also means I should probably start figuring out the last-minute details of the WIP I'll be working on...

So this is a short and fun post just to officially say yes, I do plan to participate this year, and I think it'd be fun for people to connect with other NaNo-ers here on the blog so time for a shout out—who else will be participating this year? (And feel free to add me as a NaNo buddy!)

Twitter-sized bite: 
Are you participating in #NaNoWriMo this year? Join the discussion and make NaNo buddies on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page #28!

Photo credit: Clara T S H on Flickr
I was pretty stunned to realize this week we're already halfway through October, which means November is almost here, which means NaNoWriMo is nearing and, happily, it's time for the twenty-eighth Fixing the First Page feature!

For those who’ve missed before, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a public (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.


  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the twenty-second public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Monday, October 24 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Vlog: 4 Common Query Mistakes

So you've written your manuscript, revised it death, traded with critique partners, revised it again, and now you're ready to query. But before you start, make sure you aren't making any of these four common query mistakes.


Have you made any of these query mistakes? (I know I sure have!)

Twitter-sized bite: 
Getting ready to query? Make sure you don't make any of these common query mistakes. #vlog (Click to tweet)

We Don't Live in a Bubble

Photo credit: jamelah on Flickr
I've been thinking a lot lately how what's going on in politics, especially in the US, is trickling down to every other area of life. Many of us have acknowledged long before now that this isn't an ordinary election season. One candidate in particular has negatively changed the discourse on the national level. Time and time again he's broken what's expected from candidates—that they aren't overtly racist or misogynist, that they aren't mired in fraud and sex scandals, that they will respect the rules of political discourse and expectations.

We've accepted nationally that this isn't like every other elections. "This isn't politics as usual," Michelle Obama said in her speech last week. This isn't normal.

So unlike previous elections, this one has seeped into everything, because the truth is this: we don't live in a bubble.

From authors speaking openly about politics in a way that was never necessary before. From heated Twitter discussions centered around issues reflected in the election debate, about race, about sexism, about women and AFAB people having boundaries crossed by men they respected or trusted. On and on the echoes crash into us, like inevitable ocean waves.

While I was first drafting over the summer, I'd quietly acknowledged to myself how fitting it was that I was writing a politically-focused book during such a politically-fraught time. Of course, the politics aren't exactly the same—one set of politics is completely fictionalized and created in the context of the book world, but many of the themes still resonated: from racial oppression, to a movement against progress, to queer acceptance (and not) especially in religious spaces.

It wasn't until a reader recently pointed out a specific passage in my WIP, however, that I realized just how closely some of the politics mirrored each other—and in retrospect, I'm not surprised. With a conflict so centered and real, affecting so many in their everyday lives and with the potential to affect so many more should the election go one way or another, I expect to see books release in the next few years with echoes of the political landscape today. I'd be surprised if it didn't happen, really.

Sometimes we write to cope with things without realizing we're doing exactly that. Sometimes we write to examine feelings we aren't entirely sure how to express. Sometimes we write to catch the overflow of life pouring endlessly into us even after—especially after—we've hit a limit.

We don't live in a bubble and I can't say I'm surprised to see national discourse echoing in publishing, in bookish Twitter, in thousands of little ways in people's lives every day. With an election as important, and dangerous, and scary as this one, for those who live in the US (and honestly, for many who don't) the echoes are nearly impossible to avoid.

We don't live in a bubble, and whatever happens on November 8th, I'm sure we'll be seeing repercussions of this election for years to come.

Twitter-sized bite:
Author @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts on how current political discourse echoes in other areas of life—and writing. (Click to tweet)

How to Write Excellent Plot Twists

Photo credit: Romain Toornier on Flickr
I got an interesting suggestion not too long ago about writing a post on plot twists—specifically, how to write a good one. I've found, for me at least, there are two kinds of experiences with writing effective plot twists: planned plot twists and surprise plot twists.

  • Planned plot twists. By and large, this is the majority of plot twists. In order to pull off a twist that both makes sense and is effectively built into the story but clever enough that it'll surprise readers, you often need to plan ahead. When trying to come up with a plot twist, some steps you can use to spark a twist include:

    • What are all of the possible outcomes? Write them down. Even the most ridiculous, out-there outcomes, add them to the list.

    • What are other outcomes I didn't include? By this, I mean push yourself. When you've come up with what you think is a final list, it can be good to push harder and consider what you could add as a possibility that you may have initially censored out. (Remember: don't censor!)

    • How can I make this specific outcome bigger/more surprising? Once you have a favorite (or a couple favorites), brainstorm to see how you can make it bigger and more surprising. What can you do to enhance this twist? Again, don't censor even the most ridiculous possibilities.

    • How can I make sure this outcome makes sense in the context of the book? Now that you have an outcome, built it back into the plot. This is one of the many reasons why it's helpful to plan ahead—it's much easier to build something into the plot when it's all an outline than it is to add something retroactively to a manuscript.

  • Surprise plot twists. Now, this might seem a little incongruous—of course plot twists are a surprise! That's the point! But what I actually mean are plot twists that are a surprise to the writer. This has happened to me a couple times; I'll have a solid plot down, start writing, and out of nowhere a wild plot twist appears! It's always fascinating to me when this happens, but I also have to make sure to integrate it into the plot as I write—and rewrite—because spontaneity can sometimes be messy. 

While those are two options for the inception of a plot twist, far more important, to me at least, is honing them in revisions. I'll often use multiple rounds of critique partners and readers to see who gets the twist and when, so I can then go in and make adjustments as necessary to make sure the twist is believable, but not predictable. Sometimes this means tweaking specific characters, or revising several scenes to leave a dusting of foreshadowing (but not too much!). It often takes some careful rounds of testing with readers to get the right balance between surprising but believable—but it's definitely worth the extra work.

How do you write plot twists? And what are you favorite examples from YA lit?

Twitter-sized bite:
Want to write a twisty manuscript but not sure how to nail those plot twists? @Ava_Jae shares some tips. (Click to tweet)
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