Monthly Archives: November 2014

Review: Rite of Rejection

Rite of RejectionI’ve gotten a lot of great advice about author marketing from Sarah Negovetich’s blog (some of which I’ve used when handling library publicity), so I was thrilled to see she was self-publishing her debut YA novel, Rite of Rejection. I was equally excited to read about why Sarah decided to self-publish, and how she has been preparing for the book’s debut on December 4. Before I dive into my review (thanks, NetGalley, for the advanced copy; I’ve already ordered a copy for my library), I want to plug the blog as a great resource for writers regardless of what publication path you choose.

Now, back to the book.

Blurb (from Goodreads):

“Before you stands the future.”

Straight-laced, sixteen-year-old Rebecca can’t wait for her Acceptance. A fancy ball, eligible bachelors, and her debut as an official member of society. Instead, the Machine rejects Rebecca. Labeled as a future criminal, she’s shipped off to a life sentence in a lawless penal colony.

A life behind barbed-wire fences with the world’s most dangerous people terrifies Rebecca. She reluctantly joins a band of misfit teens in a risky escape plan, complete with an accidental fiancé she’s almost certain she can learn to love.

But freedom comes with a price. To escape a doomed future and prove her innocence, Rebecca must embrace the criminal within.

My thoughts:

This book is coming at a time when the YA market is saturated with dystopia, but I was intrigued enough by Rebecca to keep reading. She starts as someone so naive and weak that I had trouble liking her, but I could tell she was going to grow into someone I would respect. Elizabeth provides a nice contrast to Rebecca’s damsel-in-distress, so readers can still have a strong female character to root for throughout. I loved the setting and descriptions, and would have liked to learn more about how the Territories evolved into this rigid, structured society. Recommended for readers looking for a darker version of Keira Cass’s Selection trilogy.


Let’s talk about dialog

Speech bubbles. Dialog can be some of the most fun and most frustrating parts of a story to write. From great one-liners to game-changers (those things said in the heat of the moment we just know we can’t take back), dialog brings a story to life and helps move the action forward. And good dialog is essential for good writing — characters need the chance to tell their stories in their own voices; to learn important things about other characters from them; even to learn important things about themselves by talking to other characters. But sometimes, dialog can feel like the author talking — or worse, preaching — directly to the readers as opposed to the characters having a conversation. Often, writers don’t even realize they’re doing this. Today I’m going to share some of the most common problems I see with dialog, and tips for how to spot and fix them.

1. Saying too much

Sometimes I’ll come across dialog and think, “Nobody would ever talk like that!” These are the sentences that are too formal, too wordy, or too elevated. Would Bob really tell Sally, “If you continue to pick at your scab I shall throw this pristine, first-edition Proust at you so that you will have an even bigger scab to worry about”?  First of all, we probably already know Bob is holding a pristine, first-edition Proust, because it’s important either to him or to Sally. So he wouldn’t need to spell it out for us. (And if it’s not important, there’s no need for him to mention it.) Bob is also angry, so he probably won’t spend so much time explaining his thoughts. “Quit picking your scab or I’ll throw Proust at you. Then you’ll have something to pick at!”

2. Not enough contractions

We’re taught never to use contractions in formal writing, but fiction is different. Fiction is telling a story, and dialog is telling a story in someone else’s words. When you’re talking with a friend or family member, you’re less likely to say, “I felt awful when I realized I had lost the dog. I still have not found him, and I do not know where else to look. What will I do when Jane comes home, looking for Skippy?” This sounds stilted and formal. But when we swap in some contractions, the tone becomes more conversational. “I felt awful when I realized I’d lost the dog. I still haven’t found him, and I don’t know where else to look. What’ll I do when Jane comes home, looking for Skippy?”

3. Class is in session

I think of this as a cousin to “As you know, Bob” dialog (in which one character proceeds to tell another something both of them already know so that the reader can learn about it). In this case, one character tells another something he or she doesn’t know, but says it in a way that sounds like a teacher giving a lecture. I see this most often in fantasy, when a character explains something about the world, such as a kingdom’s history or the way that magic works. It usually looks like a big block of text, and sounds like the author explaining this really cool thing in lots of detail, rather than one character telling another just what he or she needs to know. To fix this, try breaking it up by having the other character react or ask questions, and think about even cutting some of the details. (I know, that epic saga about how the kingdom was founded may be really cool, but if only a small part of it will affect the characters and their goals, then they (and readers) don’t need the whole story.)

4. Everyone sounds the same

If dialog tags are the only way for readers to tell who’s talking, your characters don’t sound distinct enough yet. People have different speech patterns based on where they come from (hometown, cultural background, social class, etc.), their personalities (a more reserved character is more likely to end a fight with one or two choice words, while an outgoing character might launch into a diatribe because his roommate left his shoes in the middle of the living room again), and even whom they’re addressing (people address the clerk at the grocery store differently than they do their friends or family members). If all your characters sound the same, try writing some scenes from different points of view to get inside their heads. For me, the easiest way to develop a character’s voice is to write his or her journal entries, letting the character tell me his or her backstory or thoughts on a situation or another character.

These problems aren’t always easy to spot. For me, the best way to catch awkward dialog is to read the piece aloud. Your eyes may skip over stilted speech, but if you hear it, you’re more likely to make note of it. For added fun, try reading scenes with a friend, with each of you playing the part of a different character. Another set of ears will help you catch even more — especially if that friend is also a writer!

What problems do you encounter with dialog? What do you do to fix them?

Character exercises to jump-start your writing

NaNoWriMo crest.For everyone out there participating in NaNoWriMo, here are five character exercises to help you break through writer’s block and add momentum to your writing.

1. The worst possible thing

What is the worst possible thing that could happen to your main character? Write that scene. Now, how can you make it even worse? Can you add a time constraint? An internal moral conflict? Another external conflict?

For example, say the worst thing that could possibly happen to John is failing his calculus final. He’s barely passing the class right now, and if he fails, he’ll lose his scholarship to his dream university. So the first scene could be him looking at the test, sweating and shaking as he realizes he has no idea how to answer any of the questions. How does it get worse? Maybe he contemplates cheating. Maybe he has an arrangement with one of his classmates where he lets her copy his answers in exchange for her keeping the popular crowd from making him their next bullying victim. So if John fails, not only does he risk losing his scholarship; he also risks becoming his high peers’ latest target.

2. Impossible choice

Start with two questions: what does your protagonist want most, and what is the one thing he or she will never do? Now, write the scene where he or she is forced to choose between that goal and that line in the sand.

For example, say Sally wants to destroy the armada of alien space ships headed for Earth before they take over the governments of every major country. But she’s also an environmentalist, and the missiles that will blow up the space ships will also turn the Ozone layer into (metaphorical) Swiss cheese. Meanwhile, the aliens want to help manage climate change, so the planet will be habitable for both races. So does Sally advance global warming to keep the humans in charge, or let the aliens take over? (Yes, this is a terrible example, but hopefully you get the idea.)

3. Natural habitat

Where is your main character most comfortable? Describe his or her bedroom, office, living room, favorite park, etc. What do the things there say about him or her? Write the story behind one of the objects in the room.

4. Switch the setting

Write the big confrontation between your protagonist and antagonist in the setting from the previous exercise. Now, write it again in the antagonist’s natural habitat. How did it change? Did either of them say things in one place that he wouldn’t have said in the other? What happens if this scene takes place in public, or in a place neither of them have been before?

5. Switch the viewpoint

If you’re struggling with a crucial scene, try writing it from a different character’s point of view. What does he or she notice that your first viewpoint character doesn’t? What does he or she miss that the first viewpoint character wouldn’t? How does his or her mood affect what he or she notices?

For example, if John is telling Sally he wants a divorce, John may be feeling apprehension or remorse. He may focus on the painting she hung that he can’t stand to remind him of all the reasons he wants a divorce, fidgeting while she processes his announcement. Sally, on the other hand, may be blindsided by the news. She may be angry with John, or she may be angry with herself, wondering what she did wrong. She put up with him tromping across their once-white carpet in muddy work boots, and didn’t even complain when she missed her soaps because he wanted to tape some sci-fi show that was at the same time. And now he’s leaving her? Again, this isn’t a great example, but you can see the characters will notice different details, and their internalization will be different, too. The scene may be tense for both characters, but the other emotions that go with it (John’s frustration, Sally’s surprise) will affect how each of them views this scene.

Do you have other character exercises that help you push through writer’s block? Please share in the comments!

How We Fall by Kate Brauning Book Blast

How We FallHow We Fall
Kate Brauning
Merit Press, F&W Media
Releasing November 11, 2014
Hardcover: 304 pages
ISBN-10: 1440581797
ISBN-13: 978-144058179

Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle’s sleepy farming town, she’s been flirting way too much–and with her own cousin, Marcus.

Her friendship with him has turned into something she can’t control, and he’s the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie, who left for…no one knows where. Now Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away. The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn’t right about this stranger, and Jackie’s suspicions about the new girl’s secrets only drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus.

Then Marcus is forced to pay the price for someone else’s lies as the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance starts to become horribly clear. Jackie has to face terrible choices. Can she leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?

Praise for How We Fall:

Kirkus Reviews: “Debut novelist Brauning tells a touching story of young, star-crossed lovers caught in a drama they have tried hard to avoid…. A sweetly written mix of mystery and romantic turmoil.”

School Library Journal: “Heartbreaking and well-paced, this mystery novel challenges readers to look past preconceptions and get to the know characters, rather than focus on an uncomfortable taboo. Brauning’s characters are well developed and their story engrossing. An intriguing thriller… this title will raise eyebrows and capture the interest of teens.”

ALA Booklist: “…an unusual combination of romance and suspense…There is also something universal about Jackie’s struggles with her feelings and her desires, and readers will identify with her emotions, while going along for the plot’s ride. This quest for identity, wrapped up in an intriguing mystery, hooks from the beginning.”

How We Fall is available through:

Barnes & Noble Indie Bound Book-A-Million Book Depository Powell’s

All book lovers are invited to attend #YAlaunch, a giant book party for How We Fall and The Hit List on Monday, November 10th, from 6-9pm central time. Broadcast live over video, the party will allow you to see, hear, and interact with the authors. 10 YA and adult authors will be discussing everything from writing a series to how they write love interests. They’ll also be playing book games with the audience, taking questions, and giving away 100 books to guests attending online. Authors attending include NYT bestsellers Nicole Baart and Tosca Lee, Kate Brauning, Nikki Urang, Kiersi Burkhart, Bethany Robison, Alex Yuschik, Blair Thornburgh, Kelly Youngblood, and Delia Moran. It will be a fun and interactive evening for anyone who loves books and wants to spend some time with great authors. For more information and to sign up to attend, please click here. We’d love to see you there!


Kate Brauning grew up in rural Missouri and fell in love with young adult books in college. She now works in publishing and pursues her lifelong dream of telling stories she’d want to read. This is her first novel. Visit her online at or on Twitter at @KateBrauning.

Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Afterworlds. I haven’t read a book by Scott Westerfeld that I didn’t like, and his latest does not disappoint. I chose this week to highlight Afterworlds because in addition to being a great novel, it mentions NaNoWriMo quite a bit. Hopefully it’ll inspire all of you out there who are doing NaNoWriMo! (And as a bonus, if you’re worried about reading cutting into your writing time, Afterworlds is also a fantastic audiobook read by Sheetal Sheth and Heather Lind. So you can read while driving to work, making dinner, washing dishes, working out, and plenty of other non-writing activities.)

First, the summary from Goodreads:

Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she’s made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings…

Told in alternating chapters is Darcy’s novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the ‘Afterworld’ to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved – and terrifying – stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.

Now my own thoughts. This book really spoke to me as a writer who is just starting to immerse herself in the world of publishing (no book deals, but I know all about conferences, and I’ve worked on the librarian side of library visits). Reading about Darcy’s first YA Drinks Night and her dreams of YA Heaven had me thinking, over and over, “these are my people!” It’s so great to read a book that I can really see myself in.

Which brings me to the next awesome part of this book: it fits well with the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Darcy is an Indian-American who comes from a Hindu family. The love interest in her novel is a Hindu death god. And there’s plenty of other diversity in this book, but I don’t want any spoilers. (And even having to describe a book as “diverse” makes me cringe, because I wish books were just books and we didn’t need to classify stories that reflect the real world as anything unique.)

But Westerfeld takes We Need Diverse Books a step further. While discussing her book with another writer, Darcy says that the male love interest is Indian (his appearance based off of a Bollywood actor) but the female protagonist is white because she didn’t want it to be like she was crushing on the actor, but like the world was crushing on him. (I’d give the exact quote, but the downside to audiobooks is there’s no way to go back and look that up. And all our print copies of Afterworlds are checked out right now.) So basically, Darcy is saying an Indian protagonist would be seen as representing her, but a white protagonist can represent any girl. I think this scene proves exactly why we need diverse books — Darcy has grown up in a world where she can’t see non-white characters as representing a large portion of the general population. I don’t know whether Westerfeld intended to do this or not, but I think it makes a brilliant point about the need for diversity in a deftly subtle way.

So, write on, Wrimos, and give Afterworlds a read (or listen)!

Have you read any books that really resonated with you lately? Any great NaNoWriMo books? What about books that address diversity? Please share in the comments!