Category Archives: How-tos

Writing Outside of Your Box

I’ve often preached to any new writer who will listen about writing more than a first book. Oftentimes people will put so much into that first book that they don’t want to let it go… even if it might, in fact, suck. I heard someone compare books to pancakes once—that first one is a complete mess and usually goes in the trash, or, in the case of books, the trunk. (Mine sure did.)

More pancakes!

The topic of this post is sort of an extension of that one: try something new. Not only should you write more than one book if you’re feeling stuck; write outside of your usual genre too. I’ve done this three times, and all have been invaluable experiences.

1.) Writing outside of my usual fiction genre

The first time, I used the great excuse of NaNoWriMo to write something fun. The challenge I read about on a blog and decided to try was this: anyone who hadn’t written a romance novel should, well… write a romance novel. My first (trunked) book was an adult paranormal, but not romance. My second (also trunked) book was a YA urban fantasy. So, I had some free time, and I figured, why not?

Except I said yes. Hey, it’s not always a bad idea!

It was a blast, writing full-bore romance. And while no one will ever see this book, it taught me how to write way sexier romance scenes. While writing an entire book of them isn’t, I discovered, my cup of tea, it helped me be able to inject more romance and tension into those few scenes I do write to spice up my non-romance books.

2) Writing nonfiction

This was a big step for me, and less fun, but in a really challenging, enriching sort of way. I had an interesting experience in high school, and decided to write about that year of my life in the form of a YA memoir. The jury is still out on whether or not you’ll see this, but even if you don’t, the experience was still hugely valuable.

If you need a quick way to learn how to write dynamic characters, just try writing a real person as a character. You instantaneously have a three dimensional picture of this “character” in your mind since, you know… this person actually exists in three dimensions. Writing real people is excellent training for writing complex, interesting fictional characters since you can remember the steps you took to get that real person down on the page and apply it to your fiction later.

Also, writing nonfiction really made me think about story structure and appreciate the freedom I have when writing fiction. Trying to cram real events into a strong story ARC is soooo much harder than when you can make those events up. After writing the memoir, the story ARC for my next work of fiction and the events that comprised it came together with surprising ease.

3) Writing for a different age

I’d already written adult and YA fiction, so when I got the opportunity (more on this soon) to write for the middle grade age-range, I was excited—this was something new! I couldn’t rely on the relationship dynamics I was used to in order to craft my older characters, which involved more adult themes (even in YA) and oftentimes some type of sexual tension, however subtle. I had to tap into my inner 10-year-old, and write a story based on friendship and family.

How one DOESN’T want to write MG…

But whether or not you’re writing for a 10-year-old audience or 50-year-old, those types of relationships are crucial. To go back to the basics, and build something in a new way, was a wonderful exercise in writing relationships of all types.

Now, I bid you–go write something new and wild! Something you never would write, normally. You might be surprised by the benefits.

adriannestricklandAdriAnne shares a home base in Alaska with her husband, but has spent two cumulative years living abroad in Africa, Asia, and Europe. While writing occupies most of her time, she commercial fishes every summer in Bristol Bay, because she can’t seem to stop. Her debut YA sci-fi/fantasy, WORDLESS, is coming August 8th, 2014 from Flux Books. You can follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook.

How to Write a Pitch for your Novel

This is probably the second thing most writers hate to do, right after a novel synopsis. Like it or not though, a lot of agents are going to want to hear what your pitch is – after all, they go through a billion query letters a day, and they want the meat of your novel in just a couple of sentences or three so they’d have the time to do other things. Like, you know, eat or sleep or breathe.

But that’s impossible! How could my awesomely complex, masterfully layered novel be distilled down to just a few flippant sentences. How can I convey nuances of character? The stunning execution of plot? The vivid descriptions of my hot anti-hero brimming with the wit and the snarkiness and the abs and the arms and things?


Like it or not, you will have to. Pitches can also be a way that agents assess how well you know your own book, and how well you are able to summarize, pick out the important elements of your novel and convey it in the simplest, easiest, and in the most comprehensible way possible. If you can’t do this, then they may have doubts regarding just how succinct or organized the rest of your novel is – because if you can’t even explain the plot of your novel in a few short sentences, how is the rest of your novel going to sound like?

the worst reaction agents can get while reading your novel

the second worst thing

If you’re new to pitches, or just pretty stumped, here’s a handy dandy formula to remember:

Character + Obstacle + Possible Solution to overcome Obstacle + Surprise Twist Hindering Them even More from Accomplishing said Obstacle = Pitch

I’ll use a sample pitch of my book for reference:

Character = female ghost and a boy with tattoos
Obstacle = an evil spirit wants to harm the boy
Solution to Overcome Obstacle = dolls and a possible exorcism can rid them of this
Surprise Twist = the strange presence appears to come from inside the boy

Detailed Pitch : A female ghost meets a boy with strange tattoos haunted by the presence of a masked woman in black. Together, their search will take them from dolls and exorcisms to remote valleys in Aomori, Japan where they will make a terrible discovery: there is something inside the boy, and it would absolutely kill to get out.

But! The number one thing most people forget when it comes to writing pitches is that the agents don’t need to know everything about the book yet. You need to figure out the essential parts of your novel that makes it unique or compelling, then disregard the rest for now.

The Getting-there Pitch: A dead girl who kills child murderers discovers that a new boy in her neighborhood with strange tattoos harbors a strange secret inside him- one that would absolutely kill to get out.

Still too wordy? Preen it down more!

Final Pitch = A vengeful spirit who kills child murderers discovers that when a boy with strange tattoos moves into the neighborhood, so had something else.

Take note of some of the things I decided weren’t actually necessary to the pitch. I decided to forgo some of the elements, such as the Possible Solution to Overcome Obstacle because my novel is horror / suspense in nature, which means a solution isn’t necessarily what an agent might want to know upfront. It’s a really good way of breaking down the important bits, if only to find out which parts are important and which parts aren’t technically necessary, and then summarizing where you can.

How do you know when you’re done? Try reading the pitch aloud to yourself. Does it sound awkward or overlong? Are there too many details that lessens the impact of the surprise twist at the end? Does it make sense?

Then congratulations, you’ve got a pitch!

Plot twist: Hot Fuzz’s ‘Yarp’ = GoT’s the Hound.