Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Saying Goodbye... and Hello

Well, after five years of productive critiquing and seeing several of our members go on to publication, the time has come for CYAW to close it's cyber doors. This is a sad moment, but a necessary one. Because I'm so involved in Pekazoid Prophets -- which is the next step in CYAW's growth -- and because our active membership has dropped so low, it's just better to move on.

Pekazoid Prophets is going to be awesome, Lord willing! I hope the people who have been following this blog will check out the website and consider joining. We're still small, still recruiting members and teachers... but PekPro will enable aspiring authors of young adult (and middle grade and children's fiction, even picture books!) to have greater interaction with professional authors than was possible with CYAW. We've already got a bunch of promising new members, and I look forward to being a part of their growth and success.

Still, saying goodbye to the old group is hard. I just can't bring myself to hit that "delete" button. I suppose one day it will just feel like "time" and I'll be able to do it.

For myself, I've embarked upon a new project that started out as a promotional plan, but I hope will touch the hearts of teens on a greater scale than I can imagine at this moment. Placing it in the Lord's hands... It's a video project called When Pigs Fly. The videos are Manga. That is, they're illustrations that make up a story. Basically, an online comic book. (Manga is the Japanese word for this.) The story is based on a novella I'm writing, and the novella itself will be offered for free download through a website and through Amazon (probably have to charge 99 cents on Amazon). The first video is completed and online!

Check it out on my YouTube channel at: http://www.youtube.com/user/dianalee4jc?feature=mhee

(If for some reason that link doesn't work, search "When Pigs Fly, Christian manga.")

As I said, this was first a means of getting my name out there, reaching the kids where they spend so much time online--watching videos. But as I got into the project and did more research into the genre (printed, online, and Anime, which is the fully animated version), I discovered just how popular this genre is with teens... and just how DARK much of it is! Christian teens I spoke with at a recent conference said they really like the art style of Manga, but are bothered by much of the content. So now I see a need for the advancement of God-honoring Manga. From what I can tell, there are a number of people working on this, but it's still an uphill climb getting the word out that it's available.

So I'm hoping you'll check out my first video and my YouTube channel, and share it with teens you know who might enjoy it. On that channel I'll be linking other "clean" videos as I come across them.

Okay, I didn't mean for this post to be all about me. But it's been a bit of an emotional roller coaster with the start of Pekazoid Prophets, the winding down of CYAW, and the insane push (60-80 hours a week!) to get the video finished. So I want to tell everyone how much I appreciate the interaction over the past five years. Y'all have poured into me so much more than I have given back, and I'd be nowhere without my critique partners. Thank you so much for everything! I love you all.

Diana Sharples

Monday, September 12, 2011

Seems like a lame excuse to say things have been busy... but they have! Since the last time I posted in this group I have:
Started working with the youth group at our (new) church.
Fell in a parking lot and tore a ligament in my arm (February... healed now.)
Gone on two trips with our (new) church motorcycle group and "slayed the Dragon" on one of those.
Went on a mission trip to New York City with the youth group.
Finished my novel, Running Lean, and resubmitted it.
Started work on a video project.
Had jury duty (the guy was guilty).

I've partnered with author Nancy Rue to form a new organization for Christian writers of fiction for children and young adults. It's called...

Pekazoid Prophets

What in the world is a "pekazoid" you ask? Well... go to the website and find out!

Seriously... Go.

Nancy and I made our formal announcement about the group today at the Writing for the Ages conference in Colorado Springs, CO. (Glen Eyrie) This group will encompass all the features that we've chatted about in CYAW... teaching, prayer, critique groups, blogs, AND retreats... AND a mentor-matching service for our "graduates." The group will be a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, with annual membership fees running only $50.00. Our website is new and we're still working out the kinks, but we'll soon have paypal set up to accept members and our critique groups (classes), will be forming.

We've also got a Facebook group -- http://www.facebook.com/groups/113398462096128/

We're very excited about this group and the future plans we have for it! The website has a blog that is... well, it's exactly what I'd intended this blog to be.


We hope you'll join us! Hope you'll be a part of the growth of the community we're building. Our goal is to build a community of excellent writers to answer the need for God-honoring fiction for our kids.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Confrontational YA Fiction

Taking a break for a moment from our discussion of writing techniques and rules....

Recently, my family and I have had to find a new church (long story...). It was a heartbreaking move, but starting at a new church closer to home has also provided me with the opportunity to get involved with the youth ministry. Yesterday, even though I'm a newcomer, the youth pastor allowed me to sit with a group of teens and facilitate their discussion revolving around a question: Have you made choices recently that glorified God? The kids were a little reluctant to open up, and made jokes like, "I didn't kill my little brother today." But then one quiet little girl finally spoke and talked about seeing some friends smoking weed behind the classroom trailer at her middle school. (Shock number one for me... although I nodded and tried not to show how my mother's-heart was skipping a beat.) She went in and told the teacher, even though she feared retribution. The teacher promised to keep her name out of it. (Thank you, teacher.) I commended the girl for doing the right thing and making a tough choice, and was about to say that her action might have prevented some other child from getting more heavily involved with drugs, when this petite little girl dropped a bombshell. She told us that both of her parents are in jail for drugs.

Kaboom. My mother's-heart stopped cold. Somehow I managed to keep going, keep smiling... not freak out.

And I know this is just the beginning of the journey the Lord has set before me.

Folks, THIS is the world our teenagers live in. Even Christian teens can't escape it. And I am so driven to confront it with my writing. Five and a half years ago, after watching some disturbing report about teens on television, I prayed and asked God how I might protect and guide my (then) eleven-year-old daughter as she enters a world that seems so different from the one I grew up in. (Not really so different... just more things were hidden then, so naive kids like me didn't see them.) The Lord answered that prayer with a bigger mission... and I started writing for Christian teens.

I am convinced that we cannot confront the enemy that wants to devour our teenagers if we write stories with perfect characters, thinking they'll be "role models" for the readers. Our kids don't know kids like that. They won't relate to them. And those perfect characters--oh, maybe they've got little faults like they lie once in a while or they have pride issues--don't provide role models as much as they are seen as a form of adult lecturing. To reach our teens, we as writers have to get gritty with our characters. We have to paint the world as it really is. And yes, we'll have to create imperfect teenage characters... because Jesus didn't come to save the righteous but to save the sinners, the unworthy ones, the ones whose sins would make a mother's heart stop. These aren't merely the shadowy figures lurking in alleyways... they're the students sitting in the classrooms with our children. They're the girl who hides her cutting from her parents, the boy who does drugs in his friend's basement, the girl who lives with the shameful secret that her father abuses her sexually, the pastor's son who mocks the awkward kid at school, who then goes home and slashes her wrists, and yes, the angst-ridden kid who brings a gun to school and kills someone.

Teens do read fiction for escapism. They do want stories filled with hope. But they also want stories that speak to them in the world they live. Although they might not say it, they crave guidance from us... not judgmentalism and lectures in the form of fiction on what we think their lives are supposed to look like. And we can talk about what words are appropriate, how far is too far in our writing, but I feel very strongly that if we don't confront the world our children live in--even if that makes our stories "edgy" (people, what we CBA writers call "edgy" is so utterly tame compared to what I've read in general fiction for teens!)--if we don't confront that world, we are doing a disservice to our teenagers.

When I hear a mother say, "I won't let my daughter read a book that has (fill in the blank) in it," I want to say... that's your call. She's your child. But that doesn't mean that someone shouldn't write the book. Because maybe that book will speak to many other children who are living in similar situations and need to know that there's a way out.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Breaking the "rulz" of First Person POV

First person narration is necessarily artificial.

Imagine yourself writing a detailed report of a car accident for your insurance company. You probably wouldn't look for the most interesting way of phrasing things, and you would have trouble recounting every minute detail of the event and every single word that was said by the people present, much less taking time to describe how they said it, what they looked like, and what the scene looked like, smelled like, sounded like, etc. Also, a first person account implies that whatever happened, the character survives to tell the story. Most readrs are willing to accept these inherent contradictions for the sake of an intimate-feeling account. Some authors skirt the problem by writing in present tense... but this sets up another contradiction that bothers some readers; how can a character involved in a chase scene, for example, stop to write about what's happening? Yet if first person POV is handled well and there is nothing else to take readers out of the story (destroying suspension of disbelief), the technique can be more compelling and intimate than any other POV method. What this means, though, is that first person narration is not as easy to write as it may seem. There are limitations and challenges to consider... and ways to make them work.

Memoir accounts

Because first person is so intimate it doesn't lend itself easily to "epic" dramas spanning long years or multi-generations. In general, the story should follow a particular journey, trial, or quest.

Looking back on events, what Alisha Rasley calls "retrospective retelling," lessens the immediacy and intimacy and is not a good idea for young adult fiction, because the voice would then become that of an older, wiser, and possibly lecturing individual. (Think of your mother saying, "When I was your age..." Didn't it annoy you?) However, if the character is very young in the story (as in To Kill a Mockingbird), it may be necessary to narrate as an adult. Just avoid any narration that sounds like "If I knew then what I know now..." as this destroys the immediacy of the story. Once you have established, in the beginning of the narrative, that the character is looking back on things that happened in his past, delve into the events of the story with a close perspective. Don't write things like, "Looking back on it..." or "I was too young to understand..."

Staying Inside the Character's Head.

You're inside the head of your character, writing the story as she would write it. Thus, you, as the author, need to disappear! This means that anything your character wouldn't know or can't experience cannot be narrated as they happen. The character can't see her own facial expressions, for example. She's not going to stop to think about what color her hair is or what she's wearing while she's in the middle of an argument with her boyfriend. Avoid like the plague having your character look into a mirror just to get in physical description. This is horribly cliche and so easy that it's cheating.


(1) Bite the bullet. Recognize that it's going to reflect a kind of POV slip, make the description brief but interesting, and get on with the story.

(2) Have the character describe herself at a point in time when she would naturally be thinking about her appearance... but don't contrive an event to make it so (like getting into a detailed account of the character getting ready for school).

(3) Think out of the box. People do notice hair color and physique, such that those descriptions can be mundane. But if you come up with unique characteristics to introduce into the story (your character would know all her attributes and flaws and would have emotional reactions to each of them), then the reader will be more accepting of that break in the action.

The Introspective Narrator
Following the character's thoughts can lead to introspection, elaborate description, and more flowery language than would occur naturally in a person's thoughts. The character is telling his own story at his own pace. But lengthy exposition can slow the pace of the story, disrupting the immediacy of the events. Language that is too eloquent for normal thoughts can do the same. So how to approach this?


(1) Ignore it, accept that a part of the immediacy will be lost, and make the introspection worth reading.

(2) Accept that everything will be written as the character thinks and experiences at the time of the events, wholly reflecting the emotion and language skills the character would have at that time. (This is what works best in YA.)

(3) Leave out all exposition and just focus on actions and reactions. (This works too, but can give the work a minimalist feel.)

(4) Have character writing from a time removed from the events, such that he has time to ruminate upon them. (Not the best method for YA.)

(5) Frame the events in a journal style, as if the character is recounting them in a diary or a letter to a friend. This allows for more exposition and editorializing of the events, but sacrifices immediacy.

Keeping it real.
To maintain the sense of immediacy in the story, the narration should reflect the emotional state, education, understanding of the character at the time the events are taking place. If you were writing about something that happened to you as a child, you wouldn't feel the same tension as you felt when the event took place (another reason not to write as if the character is looking back). You would write with a certain calmness and introspection, which kills the tension of what might be an action-packed scene. Additionally, using educated or poetic verbiage from a character who is supposed to be uneducated feels false. Nancy Kress points out that the character's reaction to events in the story will affect how the narration should be written. If something happens that makes the narrator angry, for example, the narration will reflect that tension with narration and dialogue that matches what a person would naturally be thinking or saying in such moments.

One of the challenges of writing first person, therefore, is to find the balance of introspection, description, and action. Editorializing or explaining things in the middle of a scene can kill the forward motion of the narration. (This really applies to the other point-of-view methods as well.)


First person is all about following the main character's thoughts. Thus, it is restricted to that one character, only allowing you to narrate what that character knows or experiences. You can't jump into the mind of another character! So, if you've got stuff happening in the novel that your main character won't know about, events where she isn't present, you have to find ways to get that information into the story without breaking point of view.


(1) Think of how any person would find out information. Use dialogue, messages, news broadcasts, or covert investigation. However you do this, avoid coincidences that may seem too easy or dialogue that doesn't feel natural or follow the flow of the plot.

(2) Introduce other characters' POV with a clear transition, like a scene break or a chapter break. This is tricky if you're writing in first person. The reader can feel more jarred from the switch than if you were writing in third person and switched characters. And if the majority of your story is going to be told through first person narration and one character, jumping to another character's POV will feel like cheating. However, many authors have successfully switched POV and narrative style. I recently read a story by Steven James in which he used this method quite effectively, with his protagonist, profilist Dr. Patrick Bowers, taking the first person narrative, and all other characters (the criminals and some victims) written in third person. James' execution of the technique is masterful, as each character has his or her own story and voice, and the mystery elements are maintained right to the end of the book.

If you choose to do this, make sure the story is balanced between the various POV characters and that each POV character has a significant reason for taking over the narration--not just because the main character isn't present for a particular event. The character you switch to should have her own story that is compelling and serves to drive the whole plot forward. One potential problem with this technique, however, is that the reader can end up knowing more than the main character, which can remove some of the tension and mystery. The story can feel manic, the alternate POVs being a matter of author convenience rather than careful crafting.

Other Problems and Solutions

One possible pitfall I can see to first person POV is that if the narration is totally reflective of the character's mood or attitude, it can come across as arrogant or self-serving. Since there's no distance between the character and narration, the author needs to bring in character traits (especially voice) that counter that arrogance. Humor and self-deprecation can help. Incorporating some distance at the onset (i.e., the character recounting events that had an impact on his/her life, such that he/she can say at the onset that he was an arrogant twit who deserved... whatever happened) may be a way of "framing" the narration such that reader empathy is achieved at the start.

Unreliable witness

Throughout the story the reader is inside the character's head. This would seem to indicate that there can be no secrets. Indeed, when writing in close third person POV, intentionally withholding information from the reader is seen as author trickery, even cheating. However, it can be done in first person! After all, the character is telling his own story and has the choice of telling all or not, of being truthful or not. Having an untruthful narrator can lead to some interesting plot developments as the reader figures out that the character has been lying. (Kress states that there must be enough clues that the narrator is lying so that the reader does eventually figure it out.) Done well, this can lead to some fascinating plot twists. Done poorly, it can alienate the reader. Handle with care!

It don't come easy...

In her book, The Power of Point of View, Alicia Rasley says that if you don't have to work at all at crafting first person narration... you're probably not doing it right.

So, learn the rules before you try to break them, then break them with creative and masterful flare.

Until next week...


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

With one voice

1st Person POV, continued.

The primary definition of point of view (POV) is, whose eyes we see the action through, whose head we’re in, whose emotions and reactions we’re privy to as the character experiences them. When an author chooses to write in 1st person POV, she must immerse herself in that character’s thoughts, sensory perceptions, worldview, emotions, and voice. With any character it is important to know where the character is coming from, what he believes, what he wants, why he wants it, what his education level is, what his background is, what his heroic qualities might be contrasted with his failings, how he feels about himself, and what his voice sounds like, in addition to how he looks and how old he is. When that character becomes the narrator of the story, all of these features contribute to what is called “voice.”

Voice is the way things are said in the story. It can and should include things like dialect and educational level, but it is also affected by the character’s emotional state and attitudes, the way he looks at the world and himself, even the level of deception in the narration (not all 1st person narrators are completely honest with themselves or the reader!). If you write in 1st person, you must know your character intimately and “become” the character as you write, so that you, the author, become invisible and it is as if the character is writing the story himself.

The benefits of this kind of narration are that it gives the most intimate view of the character and events in the story, and the story is tightly focused on the character’s goals, motivations, needs, and emotions. This increases the degree to which the reader will connect with the character. Adding a distinctive voice to the character means the experience is as individual as any of us is to another.

The pitfalls can be that the narration is restrictive, so key elements of the plot taking place outside the character’s perceptions can’t be explored. The narrative can feel “claustrophobic.”  Also, that voice that was interesting or charming at the beginning of the novel can become annoying or boring by the end.

Not all genres or readers are accepting of 1st person narration. Fortunately for YA writers wishing to explore this POV technique, it is quite popular with teenage girls, giving them the feeling that they’re reading a journal or sharing the confessions of a friend. 

You have a story idea about a something that happens to a teenage girl, and you decide to write in 1st person from her perspective because… well, everything happens to her. But another point to consider in making the choice to write in 1st person is why the character would want to tell the story. What is she hoping to say about herself? 1st person, being very personal, should focus on “persona and identity: What of myself do I reveal to the world?” (Rasley, page 25.)

Thus, as with any narrative type, you need to consider how the character changes from the beginning of the story to the end (called the “character arc”). As you write the story, what your character understands about herself at the beginning of the story will change by the end, and thus some aspect of her voice will change as well.

One point I can’t reiterate enough, no matter what POV you choose to write your story in… When you’re writing for young adults, the “voice” of the story should be that of a young adult, not an adult looking back on his or her teen years. Your goal is to connect with teen readers, and if your reader gets a whiff of an adult lecture in your story, you’re likely to lose her. 

While there are exceptions to the rules, and someone might bring up To Kill a Mockingbird as an exception to this one, we must keep in mind that anything can be done with the skills of a masterful storyteller. For the rest of us, these rules are means to help us enhance our skills and grow into the storytellers we hope to be.
In my next post, I’ll talk about how some authors have broken the 1st person “rules.”

This month’s giveaway will be a two companion books useful for teen ministry or exploring some of the issues teens face, Every Young Man’s Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation, by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker, and Every Young Woman’s Battle: Guarding Your Mind, Heart, and Body in a Sex-Saturated World, by Shannon Ethridge and Stephen Arterburn. Everyone who posts a comment this month will be entered into a drawing to receive these books. 

Random side note: Stephen Arterburn is someone I’d love to interview for this blog. Maybe I’ll come up with some questions and see if I can contact him. Also, I’m open to suggestions for people to interview! Authors, editors, agents, and people involved in youth ministry… anything that relates to writing for teens!


Diana Sharples

References for this post:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

One Voice, One View

1st Person POV

Happy New Year everyone!

I'd like to start us off by extending a hand across the big pond with our December giveaway. Our winner is Vicki Stanton! Ms. Stanton writes children's books and edits a bi-monthly e-magazine, Buzz Words (http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/), and she lives in Australia. Congratulations, Vicki!

Continuing our discussion of "da rulz..."

We were taught in school that 1st person point of view (or narration) uses the pronouns "I, me, my." This basic definition might be enough for a student to identify an author's viewpoint choice, but writing in 1st person requires a much deeper understanding. Noah Lukeman, in his book, The First Five Pages, provides this adamant statement about the importance of mastering POV: "Viewpoint and narration comprise a delicate, elaborate facade, in which one tiny break or inconsistency can be disastrous, the equivalent of striking a dissonant chord in the midst of a harmonious musical performance."

Breaking down the whats, whys, and hows will help us come to a deeper understanding of this narrative technique. Choosing to write in 1st person isn't merely a matter of following a genre convention.

YA for girls is often written in 1st person... but why did the authors choose to write that way? I think the primary reason is voice. 1st person narration with an authentic teen voice will create the illusion that the reader is reading the journal of a friend, someone with whom she can relate. This quality of narration is, unfortunately, something novice writers miss, or they unknowingly allow the narrative voice to slip into their own perspectives. A killing blow for YA fiction--unless masterfully and carefully handled--is for the narrative voice to read like an adult looking back on his/her life with a wiser understanding of the events. This comes across as preachy or parental, and often turns teenage readers right off. (Note: this is a "rule," but it can be broken... if the author really knows what he's doing! If not done well... rejection notices are probably on their way.)

Going beyond the definition of 1st person that we learned in school, a fundamental understanding of writing in 1st person is that we are creating an illusion that we, the authors, are not the ones telling the story, but the characters themselves. The author must become the character. The illusion must be well crafted such that the reader is carried along with the story despite the glaring contradiction: that the name on the front of the book is not the character's name.

Nancy Kress, in her book Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, begins a section on 1st person POV with this heading: VOICE: THE HEART OF FIRST PERSON. I really can't stress this enough when it comes to writing for young adults. Your story has to read like it was written by a teenager if you're writing in 1st person.

I'll get into the topic of voice later this week. For now, let's go a little deeper into the definition of 1st person POV.

In good 1st person narration, the author is invisible. The story is told completely through the perceptions, understandings, and experiences of the POV character. We are totally inside the character's head. This gives the reader a deeply intimate perspective on the story with the distinctive voice (language, worldview, emotional perspective, etc.) of the main character. One potential problem with this is that the perspective can be limiting, even claustrophobic. There can be no going outside the character's experiences to explore an event where he/she isn't present or explain things that he/she doesn't understand. This limitation means that your character will sometimes be an observer of other characters' actions, not directly interacting with them at every given moment. If this goes on for too long, the story can lose the feel of that intimate 1st person POV and slip into 3rd person without the benefit of omniscience (that is, the narrative cannot ever dip into the thoughts and senses of the other characters). It is as if the 1st person character has gone away and the narration becomes distant.

Over this next week I'll explore some of the pros and cons of 1st person narrative, talk about voice, and then analyze ways for an author to effectively break "the rules."

For now, here's a little exercise for you. If you're writing in 3rd person or omniscient POV, take a look at any scene in your book and think about how the writing would change if you were to switch to 1st person. Would the scene have a more intimate feel? Would the perspective on the scene change (that is, would the character see the event differently than the way you've portrayed it)? How would the language differ?

If you're already writing in 1st person, pick a scene in your book where two characters are interacting. How would the narrative change if you were writing it from the other character's POV? Would the voice be different? Would the tone of the scene change (for example, if one character is angry and the other is calm, they're going to have different perspectives on what is happening).

If you'd like, you can post a snippet of the scene (please, just a few paragraphs) and then rewrite it to reflect that different POV technique or character perspective.

Wishing you all a blessed new year!

References for this post:

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.

Nancy Kress, Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and exercises for crafting dynamic characters and effective viewpoints.

Alicia Rasley, The Power of Point of View: Make Your Story Come to Life.