Friday, June 28, 2013

Imitations & Copying Are NOT The Same Thing

It's probably not any surprise that I took a lot of art classes through high school. In fact, during my teen years I would say I was more into art than writing. I drew everyday. Sometimes all day. I took every art class my schedule would allow. I passed the AP art exam twice. I am telling you this so you know where I'm coming from.

Because the most common questions I hear from newer writers is "Are you afraid someone's going to steal your ideas?" or "How do I read without imitating the stories subconsciously?" or "Do you read in your genre—aren't you afraid you'll accidentally copy someone?"

Quite frankly, these questions baffle me. There seems to be this idea that writers are not influenced by each other—and if you are, you are a plagiarist.

This is not the case. I'd like to clear this up today.

So back to my art training. I don't know if you've ever been in an art class, but there's A LOT of "copying" going on. When you are learning to draw, a teacher often demonstrates on paper the principles of foreground/background or foreshortening or proper human proportions and you copy. In a beginning painting class, the instructor will likely have students attempt to mimic his or her painting while teaching proper techniques. In figure study, you are literally "copying" a person's body as accurately as you can.

The "copying" doesn't stop there. When you learn about different art eras and styles, teachers pull out examples from the greats of that era—Monet, Picasso, Van Gough, Michaelangelo, Caravaggio. You are encouraged to absorb their styles and learn from their methods and then attempt to interpret that in your own way. Many times students will even attempt to replicate a famous piece of art in order to gain greater insight into how that artist accomplished what he or she did.

I took these same concepts to my anime education. Though I didn't have an official class in it, I watched as much as I could. When I saw a new style of eye that I liked, I tried to copy it. When I saw a unique take on body proportions, I tried to imitate it. Because in trying to imitate I not only learned from the greats in the field, I figured out what my own style was, too.

Imitation, in fact, is used in most every art form. Musicians aren't expected to compose their own music before they even know how to play their instrument. Dancers don't choreograph their own performances before they learn the basic moves. Chefs don't create their own recipes before they know the traditional ones. No. Musicians and dancers and chefs learn from their respective greats in the field. They learn the basics from those who knew them so well they were able to innovate. Because true innovation can't happen until you know what's already been done.

So why do so many newer authors think it's a good idea to stop reading in order to keep their imaginations "untainted"? I don't know. As far as art is concerned—and I believe writing is an art—imitation is an expected part of the journey.

Personally, when I read as a newer author it taught me about my genre and what kinds of expectations resided therein. It taught me what was being done and how. It showed me many different styles of writing that I didn't know existed, which educated my own and helped me see where I stood out and where I needed more work.

More than that. Reading sparks my own imagination and love of story. When I feel the creative well going dry, one of the easiest ways to fill it is going on a "story binge." I read books, watch movies, anime, and Kdrama. I take in other's stories, and they inspire me to create my own.

This is not copying or plagiarizing. This is inspiration and, yes, sometimes imitation. Copying and plagiarizing involve stealing huge chunks of a writer's work verbatim and claiming it is your own. Imitation or pulling for inspiration is something all artists do—art informs art.

Was TRANSPARENT largely inspired by X-Men? Yes. Did I steal the story of Wolverine but name him another name and say I wrote it? No. I took my own path on the mutations road. Was I inspired to try writing in first person present because I read THE HUNGER GAMES? Yes! Did I write about a girl name Patniss who goes to a deathmatch for teens? No. I thought, "Wow, that first person present was done really well, I'd like to try it and see how it feels to write in that pov."

I highly encourage all writers to not only learn the craft, but to read the books in their genre that are successful. Even those that aren't. It's very educational, and as a writer you should be always seeking to learn more about writing in any way you can. Because once you know the standards, that is when you will truly be able to find your voice and style and genre. You will be a better writer for it. I promise.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

All Day Q&A!

The questions! Today I will answer them! As my one regular feature on this blog, the monthly Q&A day has become one of my favorites. You lovely people always ask such interesting questions. I'm so happy to be able to share a day talking together. 

As always: You may ask whatever questions you'd like and however many you'd like about anything you want. I will do my utmost to answer them as quickly as possible, with only slight delays to feed my kids or change diapers. 

ALSO, you may ask here on my blog OR on Twitter, though I never seem to get many on Twitter. Maybe I should add a hashtag to make it #NatQADay? Wait, that looks like National Q&A Day. No. Bad. Um...#whippleQA! Yes, #whippleQA, no mistaking that.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

House Of Ivy & Sorrow ARC Winner!

I have consulted the random number generator, and it has decided that Keisha Martin is the winner of a HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW ARC! Yay! Of course, I do not have ARCs yet like I said, but you will be getting a prize pack the second I do.

Congratulations, Keisha. Please email me at nataliewhipple (at) hotmail (dot) com in order to work out the details.

Oh! And if you didn't win, I'd like to take this moment to mention that HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW is available for pre-order! You should get some, because everyone needs a gift on tax day, right?

Monday, June 17, 2013

House Of Ivy & Sorrow Cover Reveal + ARC Giveaway!


I KNOW, RIGHT??? When I first saw the design direction HarperTeen was planning for HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW, I about peed my pants from excitement like those little yippy dogs do every time they meet a stranger. The concept art was super rough, but the fact that they were going for an illustrated text cover was pretty much a dream come true. And then the colors! And the ivy! And my name is on it!


They say a witch lives in the old house under the bridge . . .  
What the residents of Willow’s End don’t know is that there are two witches living in the crumbling old house draped in ivy. Ancient, toothless Dorothea Hemlock . . . and her seventeen-year-old granddaughter, Josephine.

Jo has always managed to keep her magical life separate from her normal one. But now the mysterious Curse that killed her mother—and so many Hemlock witches before her—has returned. Soon Jo realizes that the life she’s fought to keep hidden could destroy the one she’s worked so hard to protect. 

So there it is! HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW—coming to you on April 15, 2014. Talk about the perfect tax day treat. And you won't even have to feel guilty because it's a paperback original so it'll be under $10! That is A LOT of pretty for a very reasonable price, just sayin'.

But in all seriousness, this book means a great deal to me. Though it may be about witches on the surface, the heart of this book is very personal stuff. The death of my grandmother when I was eight. How much I value true friendship. And some pretty strong feminist themes.

Also, pudding. And talking cats. And kissing.

What? You didn't think I'd go completely serious, did you? Psh.

Okay, on to the GIVEAWAY. Obviously, I don't have ARCs yet, but I'm giving away one of mine the second I get them—and it could be you that I send it to! All you have to do is leave a comment on this post by June 24, 2013. Yup. Easy peasy. I'm old school like that. I'll announce a winner next Tuesday, and you'll get a HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW ARC just days after I get mine, which is pretty much as soon as you'll ever get them.

Now excuse me while I prance around like an idiot because I love this cover so much.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Confidence. A Constant Battle.

One thing I've noticed about working to become a writer? The better you get at putting the words on the page and making them pretty, the more you doubt that you're any good at all.

It's an odd feeling. Because while I know without a doubt that I'm a better writer than I was 8 years ago, I am not confident that I'm good enough to actually continue getting lucky and selling books. Which kinda makes no sense.

And as far as I know, all the writers go through the same thing. Whether they're a lead title at a big six or adored by their small press or making good money self-publishing. There seems to be a universal wavering of confidence that plagues writers. No, I'm willing to bet it's all creative sorts—musicians, artists, dancers, etc.

I could sit here and muse about whys to this feeling, but the whys are often irrational in this case. At least many of mine are: I'll never sell another novel, no one wants to read my stories when there are so many good ones out there, my genre is ebbing in popularity, I'm not that great at this in comparison to whoever, my stories aren't original, my characters are flat, blah blah blah. My reasons for not feeling confident change as often as I eat meals, it feels like.

I want to talk more about how to deal with the doubts when they come. Because they will come. And sometimes they will cripple your confidence so badly it'll take time to recover.

First, I think it's important to remember that it's normal. Personally, I find a lot of comfort in knowing all writers lack confidence at one point or another (or constantly). It reminds me that you don't have to feel 100% about it to keep going. It also helps me realize that even though I might not think my work is good, that doesn't make it true. I've heard horror stories about how awful it was for an author to write a certain novel, and reading that novel you'd never guess they struggled at all. When you're in that place, it feels like your insecurities are hanging out for all to see. But they aren't.

Next, I usually have to go all "daily affirmations" on myself. Which sounds really stupid. It kind of is. But sometimes I have to just tell myself to stop it. I have to remind myself of all those things you hear over and over. Like "No one can write your stories because they're not you." Or "It's better to be writing in an obscure genre you love than a popular genre you hate." Maybe a little "It doesn't have to be perfect—that's what revisions are for." You'd think I could remember these things for more than a few minutes, but they always seem to slip my mind when I'm in the thick of a difficult project (and they all seem difficult lately).

If the daily affirmations start becoming ineffective, I usually move into the "screw you" phase. It's a fun, rather childish phase in which I mentally flip the bird to all of publishing and think stuff like "You don't like me? Fine. I don't like you either." Or "It's not my fault no one understands my art." And a good helping of "I'm in charge I can do whatever I want and I will like it so you can all go to hell for all I care." Basically, the adult version of a temper tantrum. But, I hate to admit, sometimes this works for me. Sometimes that frustration becomes amazing fuel and I write more and I feel confident because for once I'm not worried about anyone or anything but me and my story.

Truth is, I don't actually know the answer to curing the insecurity battle. If I did, that would be awesome because I'd never have to deal with it again. I imagine I'd be a ridiculously productive person if I never doubted myself. I also imagine I'd be a jerk.

While I hate fighting for my confidence, I have a feeling it's an integral part of being creative. Even to the point that you couldn't be creative without it. My doubts and insecurities push me to do better, to reach higher, to never get complacent in what I'm crafting. Could you imagine believing 100% in all you do? How open would you be to change if you thought you were perfect? How innovative could you be if you thought all your initial ideas were right?

Strangely enough, a wild amount of confidence is the mark of a novice in most every creative profession. So I guess if you're battling with your confidence, you're going in the right direction. Perhaps most of all, we should all take comfort in that.

Friday, June 7, 2013

INSOMNIA! Jenn is awesome!

I met Jenn (JR) Johansson for the first time back in 2009, at a writer's retreat in Southern Utah. While there, we...barely talked to each other. I'm not sure why. She seemed lovely. I suppose our friendship was one that took a while to get going, kinda like how a semi-truck needs time to get up to speed but once there it's all good.

Over the years, we slowly discovered we were connected in more ways than we'd ever guess. We'd learn more about each other and—at least for my part—wonder why it took so long to get the ball rolling. Though I've always known Jenn through writing, we've somehow never crit for each other but instead have been there cheering each other on side-by-side through the ups and downs. I say this because I think it's proof that you don't have to be crit-partners to be close friends in this business.

Now Jenn is one of my dearest friends. I can't imagine not having her in my life. And today her debut novel, INSOMNIA, is officially out in the world. Having just gone through this, I'm so very happy that Jenn has gotten here as well. I'm glad that we could go through it together, experiencing the crazy ups and downs of debut year almost simultaneously, thanks to our close release dates.

So congrats, Jenn! I'm so proud of you for pushing through all the rough bits, and I hope today you are feeling a million times better than you thought you would. Because you did it—you published a book and you have THREE MORE ahead of you already. You rock, my friend.

I highly recommend picking up INSOMNIA if you love thrilling stories with some creep on the side. People often ask me if this book is TOO scary, and I will tell you no. I'm a total WUSS when it comes to scary (which is probably why I don't crit for Jenn), and I could handle INSOMNIA.

That said, I still made sure to read it in broad daylight.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Upcoming Events!

Events! I have them! This is seriously weird to me that I can legitimately sign books like a real author, but I wanted to let you guys know some of the things I'll be doing this year so far. You know, in case you want to see me or the awesome authors I'll be hanging with from time to time. Here's the current list—hope you can make it to some of these!

Escape Reality Event w/ Elana Johnson, J.R. Johansson, Bree Despain, and Kasie West: July 9th, 2013. 7PM at the Provo Library in Provo, Utah.

EARTHBOUND tour. Signing w/Aprilynne Pike, Brodi Ashton, and Jessica Day George: July 31st, 2013. 7PM at the Sugarhouse Barnes & Noble in Salt Lake City, Utah.

EARTHBOUND tour. Signing w/Aprilynne Pike, Wendy Toliver, and Jessica Day George: August 1st, 2013. 6:30PM at the Grand Teton Barnes & Noble in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Vegas Valley Book Festival: October 30 – November 2, 2013.

Pleasant Grove Library Writers Series: November 14, 2013. 7PM. "5 Things Every Beginning Needs" at The Pleasant Grove Library in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Writing Shop Talk: How To Use Description

So I've decided to start a new feature on the blog—Shop Talk! I've given out a lot of advice on this blog, some good and some bad. But people seem to like advice at times, and I really need to update my opinions on some topics now that I'm a more seasoned writer.

The other perk? You can ask any questions you have about the Shop Talk topic of the day! So if you want to know more, please ask! Also, if you want me to cover a particular subject, let me know.

I'm starting with something I still hate: description. My first drafts are usually quite sparse on details because I just don't like writing them, but I've learned how important description is and I do work to improve it. Both in my first drafts and through revision.

You've probably all heard the standard Description Advice. Use multiple senses. Try not to use cliche phrases. Pick details that stand out. Etc.

The issue with some of this device is that description is one of those things in writing that everyone has a different taste for. Some readers despise long passages of description, while others revel in it. Some love a more artistic flare, while others prefer a stark touch. So it's hard to give specific advice because description is a lot about style and balance and picking up that instinct through practice.

But as I've critted for people over the years, I've noticed a few things about description as I've looked at how others either handle it well...or not so well.

Time for subheadings!

Description is one of those elements of writing that I call a "floater." It can go anywhere, really. It's not like the plot, which unfolds in a mostly linear manner. But it supports the plot and gives it meaning and depth when placed properly. When it isn't, it weighs down the plot and can make readers lose interest. 

So how do you know where to place description in your story? I use the rule of the "need to know basis" most often, meaning I describe something only if the reader must absolutely know it at that moment (which is an instinct you have to hone over time). Describing a character in detail long before you meet said character, for example, would be improper placement. Describe the character when they enter the novel—that's when the reader needs it. Description tends to look superfluous unless it's in the right place.

There is also the concept of foreshadowing, which is often accomplished through description. This may motivate a writer to place description or backstory before it's immediately relevant, but when you do that you have to realize you are giving the reader a cue—you're saying this information is important somehow and you better make good on that later on.

Another important function of description is establishing mood and setting. When settings change or you want to establish a new mood, this would be a good time to implement some description to direct the reader.

I alluded to this when talking about placement, but a big key to using description properly is understanding what details are relevant. Relevant to your story in general, and also what is immediately relevant to each particular scene in your novel. Writers always know more about their books than what ultimately ends up in the text—think of it as cropping a picture in photography to get the maximum impact. You have to figure out what kind of lens you'll be using for the novel, and therefore what belongs in the picture and what doesn't.

There are a few places to look when deciding what description is relevant to your novel. My first go to is always the main character (or the pov characters, if there are more than one). What would they notice? How would they describe things? Think about what your characters find important—for some it might be clothing while others it's the architecture or foliage or food. Direct the description to build understanding of your characters when you can.

Another way to determine relevancy is if certain elements are central to your novel's plot. If there is a city that hangs in the balance—it'd be good to know about that city in detail. If there is an organization or rules or whatever that the reader needs to understand to follow the plot, those are things you should describe. That's different for every book. In one novel it may be appropriate to explain the intricacies of the politics, while in another it detracts from the story because it has nothing to do with politics.

And finally, when I write my own description, I constantly ask myself, "Is this immediately relevant?" Does the reader need to know this right now to continue the plot? Will it clarify my story or make it more obscure? Am I getting infodumpy? Would this information be better to hold back? Better to establish upfront?

Choose wisely. Or at least as wisely as you can. Getting a grasp on relevancy was something that propelled my writing to the next level, but it took a lot of trial and error. It still does, really, but now I'm more conscious of my choices.

I won't tell you how much description is too much, or how little is too little. It's all relative to the story's style. But I will tell you my one rule: The amount of description on a certain topic/item/person should be proportionate to their role in the story.

Oftentimes I see newer writers making the mistake of describing everything and everyone with the exact same amount of detail. This means they are describing the cashier as they would a major character. Or they are describing a room as if the entire novel might take place there. Or they just aren't describing anything.

This can bring a reader confusion because humans are natural comparers. When we spend more time describing one item than another, we're telling a reader that item is more important. To the character, to the plot, etc. So if you're characters are just driving through a city, maybe only a few details are enough. If they are staying in that city for the duration of the novel, maybe there should be a lot of detail about that place and how they navigate it.

This goes for characters, too. If you describe the school janitor in great detail, you are saying that the janitor will be important to the story. If they are—great! If not...that's confusing. Characters who are important can handle more description than those that play minor roles. If minor characters are overdescribed, it can be potentially frustrating to the reader because it will feel irrelevant.

So those are my personal rules on description. I hope they help you, and if you have additional questions please comment! I'm happy to clarify or add more.