Tag Archives: discussion

Discussion: “Light” Contemporary YA

Lately I’ve been on the hunt for more fun, clean contemporary YA, in part because my next story idea I want to get serious writing about falls into this category. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much in this category outside of Kasie West, though I did recently finish Love & Gelato by Jenni Evans Welch that met the criteria and was an enjoyable read.

As you may have noticed, I have yet to use the word “fluffy” like many would, and that’s because I still want my fun contemporary YA to have substance, and I believe several of them do. The question is, how to insert it without suddenly making your book all about an issue? How do you achieve meaningful character growth when you want to avoid the death of a family member or some other catastrophe that feels more dramatic than what you are really going for? Yes, something needs to happen to make the character grow, but I don’t think it has to be BIG AND DRAMATIC.

I was thinking recently of how Jane Austen’s books were contemporary for her time. She was writing about people in her place and time, and yet her stories have endured. Maybe it’s because the romances felt more original than what we read now (since many rehash hers), I don’t really know. Perhaps it’s a tall order, but I want to figure out how to write a contemporary YA that is fairly light in nature (not an issue book like Thirteen Reasons Why, which has obviously seen enormous success for about a decade now) but can stand out and endure. I’m not expecting it to last hundreds of years necessarily, but I would hate to see anything I might publish one day basically blink out of oblivion within a year or two.

As I think of my adoration of The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, what comes to mind is how much I love the characters Paige and Max, and love how they come together. To me, it’s just perfect. And that’s the sort of story I strive to write – with characters so lovable that you root for them hardcore and are happy when it all works out in the end, and that in the end it feels like more than just a romance.

What are your thoughts? What are your favorite light YA contemporary reads, and what makes a great one in your opinion? (Please share recs too!) 

Discussion: Are You Going to Finish That?

In the years 2012-2015, I deliberately put aside four books (I think it was actually one a year) without the intention of finishing. I came to a point in these books where I didn’t care enough about the characters or their journey to continue.

However, in the same number of years I have set aside about 7 books to not be picked back up again thus far, but that I would like to finish.


Image source

Five of those books were non-fiction. One was Les Miserables. One was The Prestige audiobook, and long story short, it took me a long time to figure out how to download an audiobook with my library again like that without streaming with my phone’s data, and by the time I did figure it out I did not really have a good time to devote to audiobooks, and I just haven’t gotten my hands on a physical copy since.

As a general rule, I read one book at a time, for about an hour or two a day at least five days a week. For some reason, I have a difficult time putting non-fiction down and picking it back up in this matter. There are exceptions, like the wonderful book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. But in my daily reading time, I am seeking some sort of escape. For most non-fiction, I have to pretty much carve out a different reading time and read it in significantly less settings. This worked out really well for Let’s All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs, which I read most or all of one Sunday afternoon, and completely adored it.

Some of the books I have set aside but not picked back up yet have been religious non-fiction, which, even when I like the book, can be hard for me to dedicate the time to both read and reflect. Another one was a writing book that has been highly praised but I wasn’t really into, though I still think one day I’ll get back to it. But again, I feel I might need to take notes or something when I read it, rather than doing so leisurely.

And while Les Miserables is fiction, that behemoth is certainly not a leisure read. What I read was really interesting though, and I would like to pick it back up. I was actually trying to read that one at a different time than my normal reading time, very slowly. I’m not sure what the best plan of action for me reading it in the future is though, other than dedication.

So tell me, do you struggle with occasionally setting something aside and not picking it back up? What kind of books do you typically set aside to finish later? Do you have any specific reading strategies that work for you when it comes to books that you might not read as easily as others?

Character Study: Kaz from Six of Crows

When I read reviews of Six of Crows before reading the book for myself, I saw mention of how the characters aren’t really the nicest people around. Because of this, I was a little wary of being able to connect with any of the characters, which is what ultimately connects me with the story at large. Thankfully, I found myself liking two of the six main characters a good bit: Inej, and surprisingly, Kaz.



I won’t spoil any details, but what I will say is that Kaz is probably the least nice, least good person out of the crew of six. And yet, I really liked reading about his character. And I wondered why this was.

There is a Writing Excuses podcast episode I listened to a while ago about how to make characters likable, and they talked about “sliding scales.” There are a few different scales you can play with, so while your character might not be  the nicest person, sliding that scale low, you crank up the competence scale. This example definitely applies to Kaz. He seems cold-hearted, and for the most part he is, but he is very competent at what he does.

But he does also care for someone, not just Inej, but also his brother, and we see both of these relationships are very crucial parts of him as a character, in how he behaves and the choices he makes. Because of these relationships, combined with his intelligence and competence, combined with physical and mental weakness, he feels like a very fleshed out character. And he doesn’t feel like an antagonist or a villain because he has just enough relatability to make you root for him, even when you know you probably shouldn’t.

Who is a character you like from a book even though you feel you shouldn’t? Who was your favorite character in Six of Crows, and why? 

Discussion: Plot Vs. Character?

I am always shocked when someone says they care more about the plot of the book than the characters. This boggles my mind to no end, because what’s the point if you don’t connect with the characters? I plan to do another post soon about the hero’s story arc, and to me that arc makes or breaks a story. But of course, I have to wonder…

tonystark-too-much-to-askI mean seriously, if you make me love characters enough, I will devour scenes where they just sit around and talk, but I have to admit, plot is imperative to make the story move forward. Can the character have an arc without a real journey? But what do the journey and the arc matter if you don’t even care about the character in the first place?

princessbride-intellectWhen I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows it was just amazing to me how Rowling pulled this off. I had gotten to know these characters and were already attached to them from previous books, but through their circumstances they grow leaps and bounds just in this one book. Their journey felt complete.

Characters help connect me to the story. The plot moves the characters through an arc. And if the arc is successful and I see positive change on the other side (or really well executed negative change), then I am ultimately satisfied with the story.

plot-vs-charactersDo you consider yourself more of a plot person or a character person? What do you think matters most in a story/character arc?

Discussion: Books from Childhood/Teen Years

Two things prompted this for me. The second was this week’s Top 10 Tuesday topic that I honestly feel too lazy to try to work out, which is Top 10 Books From My Childhood (Or teen years) That I Would Love To Revisit. The first was an interaction I had on Sunday morning. My mom works in the library at our church, and I always go in there to chat with her after service.

So this Sunday, there was a family who came in and one of the girls in this family came straight up to the counter and asked my mom if she had any recommendations. My mom wasn’t really sure, and then deflects the question to me. This girl was obviously young, and I was thinking geeze thanks, Mom, I have no idea. I asked the girl how old she was and she said 11. That didn’t really help me at all except now I know what an 11 year old looks like (there’s a blur between about 6 and 12 where all kids look the same to me). She ended up walking away with nothing, and I spent some time after that looking at the middle grade/YA section we have there, if you can call it that. I mean, the selection was fairly decent considering I don’t see much more (maybe even less sometimes) in this age category at a Christian bookstore. Obviously, there is a better selection at like a Barnes and Noble when you’re going beyond just Christian reads, understandably, but it really got me to thinking.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this girl goes through a similar experience than I did. When I was a kid, I was reading things like American Girl, Babysitter’s Club, Boxcar Children, and I also read some Christian books aimed for younger audiences, and thanks to looking at the shelves at the church library I remember some of those books: The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle by Bill Myers, Dixie Morris Animal Adventures by Gilbert Morris, and others I don’t remember the names of. But at some point, probably close to 11, is when I came across an awkward stage of life in my reading where I discovered:

– The books for younger kids weren’t cutting it for me anymore.

– The books for teens were annoying because they were all dating and drama.

– While I had the reading ability for many adult books, most of them dealt with adult problems.

I couldn’t help but wonder if this is where this 11 year old girl is at.

It does seem that there is a decent selection of middle grade/younger YA books out there now, that maybe there is a good selection that is appropriate for an 11 year old, but I feel I know I certainly missed that boat. I spent years struggling not knowing which books were worth picking up. And I know this isn’t a genre that most of my readers read, but I feel that there is definitely a black hole in the middle grade/YA market in Christian fiction. There really needs to be more options.

But then again, maybe there are plenty, I honestly don’t really know since I’m not seeking those books out. Maybe instead the problem is that all these books are just titles on a shelf. This 11 year old girl just wanted to know what we liked. What had been tested and approved by someone else? How do you get this sort of feedback when you’re 11, from someone other than friends? 11 year olds aren’t reading blogs or on Goodreads. I think the best option they have is book fairs, and even that only helps so much.

I think it’s easy for people to overlook this age group. I remember some of books from my younger childhood years, and I remember some of the books from my teen years, but there is a bit of a void in the middle. I guess what I want to know is: do you remember what books you read when you were in that preteen/tween age? Do you remember feeling an awkward stage between kids’ books and teen books?