How One Character Can Have Two Points of View

A WORK OF ART is a first-person narrative, but the main character’s flashbacks are told in third person. This was a deliberate choice on my part to show how seventeen-year-old Tera has removed herself from her past, as if her memories belong to someone else. To further set off the flashbacks, I gave each one its own chapter, and whereas none of the other chapters have titles, the flashback chapters do. Once again, I wanted Tera’s memories to feel like events that she’s packed up and stored in a box, with the chapter title acting as the box’s label. The...
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The Art of Symbolism

I remember studying symbolism in high school after reading a short story called “The White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett. The story is filled with symbolism, and to be honest, it bored me, but I absolutely loved the idea that literature could be bubbling over with these mini riddles called symbols. Shortly after studying “The White Heron,” I began inundating my own stories with hit-you-over-the-head symbolism that I thought for sure made my writing more deep. I might include, for example, a main character who was watching a bird escape from her cage. (Look! That means my character wants to...
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Self-Editing: My Writing Affliction

Some people see writing as an outpouring of words. The Muse visits, and words appear on the page. Not for me. My writing is more of an extraction—and a painful one at that. More times than not, I feel like I’m pulling out every word by force. The truth is, I’m a chronic self-editor—maybe because I was a professional editor for fifteen years and old habits die hard. Or maybe because I’m a tiny bit obsessive. So when my writer friends say things like, “I write two-thousand words a day,” or “I wrote my first draft in three months,” I’m...
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Writing for Young Adults: 3 Things I Learned the Hard Way

When I began seriously pursuing writing as a career, I didn’t intend to write for young adults. My upcoming book, A WORK OF ART, was originally aimed toward an older audience, but my critique group convinced me (and rightly so) that it was suited for young adults. After all, its protagonist was a teenage girl, and many of her problems were teenage problems. But making the transition from an adult audience to a YA audience was tougher than it seemed. My early drafts were written in third person, where everything was seen through the eyes of my protagonist. That’s all...
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Realistic Dialogue: 2 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

There’s a lot to say about writing dialogue—more than anyone wants to read in a single blog post. But here are two lessons I learned the hard way. (That is to say, I learned these lessons through lots of study, trial-and-error, and getting ripped apart by sharp-clawed critiquers.) Lesson 1: Realistic dialogue does not imitate real life. I used to think realistic dialogue imitated how people really talked. But the sad fact is: Most people—even smart people—aren’t that articulate when it comes to speaking. If you don’t believe me, read a few unedited interview transcripts. They sound something like this:...
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