Monday, January 26, 2015

Get Real: Thoughts on Realistic Fiction

I'm a big fan of realistic fiction, which is why majority of my manuscripts fall into that category. Don't get me wrong: I love fantasy and sci fi and magical stories, too. I even wrote a couple of manuscripts containing magical elements before I realized that it just wasn't my strength. But contemporary, realistic middle grade is my passion.

I think realistic fiction in general has the risk of appearing boring. Magical stories might deal with grand conflicts such as defeating an evil wizard or saving an entire planet from destruction. By comparison, a realistic manuscript's plot revolving around failed friendships, complicated relationships, or trouble at school/work (as examples) might seem a little too... ordinary. (Though, of course, there are genres such as suspense and mystery that are both realistic and intense. I just tend to write quieter stories.)

But here are some things I love about writing and reading realistic fiction:

- That I've-so-been-there feeling, when a character does something that you can totally relate to. As a writer, I like to pull things from personal experience and incorporate them into a story.

- That I-feel-like-I-know-you-from-somewhere feeling, when characters and settings feel so real to you. I remember feeling like this as a kid when reading the Babysitter's Club books. Kristy and Claudia and everyone may as well have been girls I went to school with.

- That I-can't-stop-laughing feeling. I love a humorous book that causes me to reread the funny parts a second and third time. I'm looking at you, Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Of course, the above list is applicable to fantasy and magical books, too. But since I read way more realistic fiction, I experience the above much more frequently with that genre.

What are your thoughts on realistic fiction? Do you tend to read/write it, or do you favor sci-fi/fantasy/magical stories?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

New Things in a New Year

It's already 20 days into 2015, but Happy New Year, everybody!

Hope everyone's year is off to a good start. There are plenty of new things happening and about to happen around here, such as:

1) NEW house -- As I've probably mentioned before, we're in the middle of the (long, complicated, exciting, terrifying) process of moving across the country. I'll spare the details on this blog, but if you want to know more about our journey, just ask.

2) NEW email address -- Well, it's not 100% new, since I'd used it as a business email for a while now, but as of this month, I'll be using it as my personal email address, too: shelleysly2 (at) gmail (dot) com. Email me anytime!

3) NEW book -- I'll make an official post about this soon, but I plan to release my next book in a few months! It's a contemporary middle grade novel called ONE HUNDRED THIRTY STARS.

4) NEW WFW news -- Check back sometime this spring for something new related to my first book, WISHING FOR WASHINGTON!

What new things do you have going on in 2015? Feel free to share info on book releases or other happy news!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Build Your Own Story (And Win One, Too!)

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of presenting to each of the third grade classes at a local elementary school. (They've always been so incredibly kind to me at that school -- I couldn't ask for more support!)

Rather than rambling on and on about how a book is made, I led an interactive activity called, "Build Your Own Story," where the students and I... well, built our own story.

I gave them one category at a time (characters, setting, what does the character want, what's in the character's way, how does the character try to get what he/she wants) and they raised their hands and gave me some really creative and brilliant answers! Here are some (abbreviated) ideas that they came up with:

Princess Sally, who lives in a kingdom made of gold, wants to find the treasure that's hidden under all the gold. But what will she do about the evil witch who tries to stop her?

Detective Looker is investigating a robbery in a museum when another detective gets in his way. Who will solve the mystery first?

A chicken named Bob dresses up as a human in order to go to school with the children in his town, but he gets caught and is sent home. How will he find a way to go to school when chickens aren't allowed?

They came up with great endings for the stories, too. I'm so impressed with the fun story ideas they had! "Build Your Own Story" was a success, and I hope to do more presentations in the future.

Another exciting event happening this month is the Goodreads Giveaway for WISHING FOR WASHINGTON. If you'd like a chance to win a signed paperback (giveaway ends Thursday, Dec 4th) then feel free to enter:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Wishing for Washington by Shelley Sly

Wishing for Washington

by Shelley Sly

Giveaway ends December 04, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Any other interesting or exciting things going on lately? Feel free to share!

Monday, November 17, 2014

There's No Place Like the Library

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'm moving across the country. While I'm very excited and ready to move on, there are some things I'll miss about where I live now. One of those things is, of course, my town's library.

It's the place I always go when I need a change of scenery. I have a certain table where I regularly sit and do my work, and after a few hours, I pack up my stuff and wander through the juvenile fiction section. Sometimes, I'll grab a middle grade book and settle in a nearby chair for an hour. Other times, I'll just check out a stack of novels and read them over the course of a week.

The feel of the library is pleasant, too. There are lots of windows that bring in just the right amount of light. People are friendly (but quiet enough that they don't distract me.) It's comfortable.

These are all things I'll likely be able to experience in my next town, though I'll miss the charm and familiarity of this one at first. But the last time we moved, I was bummed about leaving that library behind. (It was a very spacious one with a winding staircase in the center of the room!) Just like last time, I'll move on and make my new library my new hangout.

The more I think about it, the more I can't wait to see what the next one is like!

So tell me, what are your libraries like? Do you have a routine that you follow when you go to the library, or do you do something different every time?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Writer is Evolving!

If you think that's a weird post title, that's because it is.

I'm referencing the Pokemon video games, specifically the screen that shows your Pokemon evolving from one form to the next. It's a magical moment for people who play this game. The cute little animal they've cared so much for and trained so diligently has finally transformed into a more powerful and capable beast.

Writers evolve, too. But our evolution is usually less obvious and isn't accompanied by suspenseful music.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling brave enough, I'll go back and scroll through old short stories and manuscripts. It can be helpful to take a look at how far I've come. (It can also make me cringe and close the documents before I'm even done reading them.)

Here are some things that I frequently found in drafts from years ago:

- Excessive adverbs with dialogue tags. (Example: "What a fabulous idea!" she exclaimed excitedly.)
- Lots of telling instead of showing. (Example: "I was mad at him." "Her gift made me happy.")
- Forced, unnatural character introductions and physical descriptions.
- Unneeded banter that doesn't propel the story forward.
- Too many characters in a story, many of which aren't relevant to the plot.

And lots more.

By pointing out the flaws in my early writing, I'm not saying I'm a perfect writer now, or even close to it. Currently, one of my weaknesses is that I don't describe my settings as well as I should. (Thank you to my hardworking and honest CPs for helping me see this!) I'm also guilty of dipping back into my former bad habits, such as including extra characters and occasionally telling instead of showing.

But I have evolved. I'm better than I used to be. And just like the types of Pokemon that have multiple forms, I will continue to evolve.

Fellow writers, in what ways have you evolved?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Moving On and Moving Away

The past couple of months have been very busy around here. We're working on moving across the country, and every step of that process (packing, doing home repairs, looking at houses on the opposite coast) has been time-consuming, but also kind of fun.

Anyway, that's my latest excuse for not blogging as often as I should. *wink*

But despite all the busyness, I've still been able to make progress in the writing world. I'm editing a MS based on CPs' suggestions (while also continuing to receive feedback from new CPs) and simultaneously drafting a super fun WIP. I honestly adore the projects I'm working on, and would devote even more time to them if I wasn't getting ready to move.

Even when I have no time at all to work on writing -- and yes, there are days like that when it's all about packing boxes and cleaning -- I've still got writing on my mind.

As I fill box after box with a bunch of my belongings, I think about what these objects say about me as a person. It's a good form of showing. I could write a scene of a character packing his/her own boxes and show the reader just who that person is.

When I flip through real estate listings, I think about the settings of future novels. So far, all of my manuscripts have taken place on the east coast, where I've lived my whole life. I can't wait to change the scenery!

I might be quiet here and there as I spend less time at the computer in the coming weeks, but my mind will still be wandering, pondering, and creating.

Writers, what keeps you busy besides writing? Does anyone have experience with moving a long distance? Any advice?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Silly Ideas

The other day, I was deep in thought about something trivial -- I was thinking about how teens today communicate. They text, they Facebook message, they use whatever apps they have on their phones... and none of that was how I had communicated with my friends as a teen. I had a basic cell phone, but texting regularly would be expensive.

So, back then, we did what everyone was doing: we used AOL instant messenger. Boy, do I cringe when I think back on those days. (Any of you guys have a "buddy list" back in the day?)

Thinking about instant messaging reminded me of this dumb story idea I had when I was in middle school. It was called "Instant Message," and it was about an 8th grade girl who had the power to mentally instant message people. Well, no, she could only mentally message one person in the whole world: this boy in her class who she had a crush on.

I think I only wrote the first scene of this story before losing interest. Please don't ask me what the plot was besides a girl mentally IM-ing her crush during Spanish class, because I really have no clue!

But as silly as that idea was, I'm glad I had it. It didn't turn out to be a bestseller (or published at all, or even finished) but it was an exercise.

It may take a dozen ridiculous ideas before I come up with one that's decent, and that's okay. I even have completed novels that I consider to be exercises. I'm not ashamed. I've grown as a writer over the years, thanks to having a lot of practice. And I'll continue to do so.

What silly story ideas have you had that you ended up not pursuing? Did you use AIM back in the 90s/early 2000s? How did you communicate with your friends as a teen?
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