From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zack's Alligator

One of the reasons I love writing for kids is that the books we read when we're young are the books that stay with us and shape us for the rest of our lives. For me, one of those books was Zach's Aligator by Shirley Mozelle.


There is something so delightful about this tale of a tiny, key-sized alligator who, once soaked in water, grows into a full-size reptilian pet. This book combines a bit of magic with fun adventures with an exotic pet, and what kid doesn't want that? I know I grew up wanting my own pet Chimpanzee, but an alligator is almost as cool.

The books we start reading just as we're able to really start reading inform us forever. One book I remember absolutely falling in love with and reading over and over again was Socks by Beverly Cleary. I've always been obsessed with animals and their relationship with their people and the story was just so endearing and engaging and now that I'm thinking about it, I can see how a lot of my current aesthetic and tonal choices have been influenced by that book.

What about you? What books influenced you as a child?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Yar

I've always loved pirate stories. I still consider seeing Pirates of the Caribbean (the original) one of the greatest theater experiences of my life.

Not to mention Captain Jack Sparrow is just plain hot.

Anyway.

I also just like the word 'yar.' It looks strange and is fun to say and has a great meaning.

The definition of yar in the nautical sense is a ship that is easily maneuverable, answers swiftly to the helm. If your ship is yar, she responds swiftly to your touch, and goes easily here you steer her.

Perhaps one of the key ingredients to making our own writing careers "yar" is momentum.

I know that when its been a while since I've written or pitched or queried or done my social media, it takes a lot more effort to get back into it. But when I've made writing and submitting and marketing a habit--part of my daily schedule--then things go much more efficiently and easily. I feel I have more control. My writing life is more "yar".

I'm still getting back in the habit on some of those things, but I've been mostly doing better with the daily writing, which obviously the most important. Keep going, keep working to get in those good habits, and then when you wake up in the morning and ask yourself, am I ready to kick some writing butt today? you can look in the mirror and grin mischeviously and say, "Aye!"

Write on!

Sarah Allen

p.s. So, I know I've put up some of my video poetry videos lately, but I just uploaded a new one and wanted to show it to you guys too! I had fun, its definitely a different style and tone than I've done before :) It's called Sometimes You Wish You Could Fly.


Monday, April 28, 2014

W is for Writers Conference

Please forgive the radio silence the past couple days. My excuse is that I have been at the Las Vegas Writers Conference and I had no idea how absolutely exhausting conferences can be.

That's just one word to describe it. Honestly, it was a bit more of an emotional roller-coaster than I expected too. So many things happened, and I'm going to be going into more detail later and telling you all more specifically what I learned. But for today, I just wanted to give an overview and explain why I think conferences are one of the absolute best investments any writer can make.

So yeah, emotional roller coaster. I admit I was feeling a little overwhelmed and discouraged the first night. No specific reason, but I think a conference really opens your eyes to the industry and you realize how much you still have to learn. Basically I was feeling like a big n00b.

But I decided that's okay. I went back Friday morning rejuvenated and ready to go and I feel like what I learned through this conference is invaluable. I feel like this conference was for a me a really intensive crash course that hopefully taught me things and moved me up a few levels that I would definitely not have moved up otherwise. In other words, it helped me be less of a n00b. And I can't even describe how priceless that is.

For me personally there were three main areas that I feel like I was helped. I went to a couple incredible workshops on plotting that I really think are going to change my life. I also went to a Show Don't Tell workshop and even though that's something we've all heard and are all working on, I think it will also really help me on the sentence level. And last but not least, I had the chance to pitch to an agent and talk to a few others and even had my first page read aloud anonymously at a lunch panel where the agents raised their hand at the point they would stop reading, and all of those things helped me form ideas and make decisions about my specific pitching strategy that will also change my life and is in and of itself beyond worth the price of the conference.

Anyway, I'll leave it at that for now, but I'll be talking about specifics more in later posts.

Write on!!

Sarah Allen

P.S. For X day, here's a link to the wonderful comic, XKCD. Check it out. It's worth it :)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Urinetown

Yes, Urinetown the Musical is a real thing.


I know every family has their own sort of culture, including what music they listen to, whether it be jazz or classical or 80s rock. We had a bit of those things, but in my house, it was Broadway. (Also twelve-year old boy humor, so...there you go.)

Before I knew the words to anything I knew the words to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I saw my first Broadway show (Cats) in Salt Lake City when I was probably seven or eight. This is all due to the fact that my mom is the most true-blue brand of theater geek there is. Some of us (me) adore theater and loved having show tunes playing all the time, and some of us (my brothers) did not. Whatever my teenage brothers think, Stephen Sondheim is one of the greatest living writers, period.

Anyway. Urinetown. I have a horrible memory for relative time so I couldn't tell you when or where it was that I saw it, but was probably about a decade ago (geez its been a long time) and probably either in Salt Lake or Los Angeles. I know, I'm terrible. But guys, let me just tell you. It was awesome.

The premise of Urinetown is this: Due to a water shortage everyone must pay to pee, and you can get arrested and sent to "Urinetown" for peeing anywhere other than the paid, public toilets.

That's it. Seriously. And as you can probably guess it is an irreverent, low-brow, hilarious romp. And the cool thing is, at the Tony Awards 7 years ago (which I guess means I saw it sometime that year, not ten years ago?) they put together the best song from the show with some of the funniest clips that totally pokes fun at itself. This clip features the band of rebels fighting for the freedom to pee for all, and the officer whose job it is to arrest them.


I know Broadway isn't everybody's thing, but just give this a shot. I'm betting you'll get a good laugh.

What music did your family listen to?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Trimmings

You know when you're editing a novel or short story and you have to take out that paragraph that you just love but it doesn't fit? You know when you have a brilliant sentence go through your head and you jot it down in your notebook (that you always have with you at all times forever, right?) but you're just not sure how you're ever going to use it?

What do we do with these beautiful trimmings? They're like Christmas tree ornaments, but just because they don't fit on this particular Christmas tree doesn't mean they aren't still beautiful and worth something in and of themselves, right? So what to do?

This is one area where I believe social media can truly be a writers best friend. I talk about social media quite a bit on this blog, partially just because I find it so fascinating, but I want to acknowledge first and foremost that the writing itself is always the top priority. Social media can be fun, but it should not take time away from the actual writing.

There's sort of a way, though, to use social media as a creative writing tool. Like I said, I find social media highly entertaining and fascinating, and not just Facebook and Twitter, but YouTube and Tumblr and Pinterest and Linkedin and Instagram too. So what about this: what if we thought of social media as a form of self-publishing?

And here enter our poor, beautiful, neglected trimmings. Those poems we've scribbled, thoughts we've jotted, paragraphs we've clipped. By using social media as a publishing platform for these trimmings, we put our words out there, get more readers familiar with us, and don't even have to put in that much additional effort.

Tell a story using images on a Pinterest board, like Tiffany Beveridge did on My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter. It's even being published as a book.

On Tumblr you can write out your thoughts for your children or interview people in your city or write stories about your cat.

If you're so inclined, you can even make a short video version of one of your poems and put it on YouTube. (Here's one I did:)

I've brought up something similar a few times recently, and again, I don't mean to say that this is where we should focus our time. I just know that for me personally, using social media as a creative outlet in this way has felt almost as rewarding as publishing a short story or poem, and I get more immediate feedback this way too. This is a way to make connections and build a following and find cool people to follow. I have my big projects, my novels, that are my central focus. But these side social media projects can still be amazing quality and amazing fun, if you find a way to fit them in that works for you. I hope to do more in the future.

What do you think? Are these side creative projects on social media worthwhile or is it all a waste of time? Have you seen examples of creative social media usage that you can share in comments? What do you think is a good way to use our 'trimmings'?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Submissions

In my opinion, the most important thing a writer can do in terms of their career, other than, of course, writing, is to submit their work.

All a writer really needs to do to build a career is to create good work and then put it where people can see it. There are other more subtle things we can work on like social media marketing and other random projects, but those two things are the key. They're the building blocks.

So once we've got a spit-polished piece--a piece we've edited and gotten feedback and edited some more--then its time to submit. At least that's how it works for fiction and poetry. With things like articles and other non-fiction pieces, you submit a polished pitch and they hire you or not based on that.

Basically, with all the genres and types of writing that people need, my goal has been to find and submit one pitch or piece or query per day. I only succeed in that goal about half the time, but I'm getting better.

And with a few good places to look, it isn't even too difficult to find all the possible writing gigs. I'm still working on putting together my own list of resources (so if you have suggestions please leave them in the comments) but here are a few helpful places I've found.

NewPages is one of the best. If you look at the side bar it not only has a list of magazines, it has a list of contests and calls for submissions. This ones worth looking at basically every day.

Poets & Writers is another great one. It has an even more user friendly list of contests than NewPages, in my opinion, and also has a great list of magazines and even small presses.

It's also worthwhile, I think, to keep an eye on the Writers Digest contest page. The entry fees can be a little off-putting, but if you have a piece you're really proud of, this could be a great opportunity.

There are also a couple great freelance writing sites that post the best freelance gigs and writing contests. They are FreelanceWriting.com and FreelanceWritingGigs.com. Check them out. It might even be worth checking out the writing gigs page of your local Craigslist.

And for you non-fiction writers, I can't not mention the wonderful Chicken Soup series, which is always accepting applications for various subjects.

I also have to recommend the Writers Market books. Yes the internet is an incredibly useful tool, but I think the difference of having a physical book in front of us can also be a huge help. With agents, contests, magazines, articles, game writing, blogging, all of the options out there, I'm hoping I can get better and better at submitting something once a day.

Your turn. Where have you found some great writing gigs?

Sarah Allen

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Reading List

Lately my reading habits have shifted to something I didn't expect. Not my reading habits, per se, but the way in which I discover new books. I was so focused on reading the "classics" in high school that the past few months or even year I think I have been catching up on all the YA I missed out on. Probably a good idea, since I'm writing YA (also delightful and unexpected). Anyway, my habit of late has been going to the library and picking random books off of the shelves in the YA section. It's delivered some true gems.

I'm currently reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. I picked it off the shelves because the cover looks great and I vaguely remembered hearing that title somewhere before. To be honest, that's how a lot of my "random" off the shelf decisions get made. I am also swayed by awards on the cover, though of course there are fantastic books without them. I have also read several books lately at the recommendation of my YA expert roommate.

Your turn. What are you reading right now and how did you come upon it?

Sarah Allen

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Q is for Quiet

Take a moment of quiet today and reflect on where you are in your life and what you want to work towards. Take time for gratitude for everything you do have.

And then listen to this:


Have a beautiful, peaceful Easter!

Sarah Allen

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Pushing Daisies


Where do I start about Pushing Daisies.

I think with this show I have either discovered an unknown gem or, more likely, I'm just super behind the times and have finally come on to something that everybody else has known about for years. In fact I do remember a little bit of an explosion when the show was canceled early and now I can join that kerfuffle and say I TOO AM UPSET.

This show...you guys, this show. It has the adorableness of Kristin Chenoweth and a golden retriever named Digby and pies and bringing people back from the dead and the piningness of two people in love who can't touch or one of them will die.

I can hardly take the pining, you guys. It is just so amazing. The cinemtography is absolutely GORGEOUS. And you know Jim Dale, the incredible, genius, award-winning narrator of the Harry Potter audiobooks? Yeah, he's the narrator of this show.

BUT GUYS THE PINING.

Mostly because of Lee Pace. Lee. Pace. I can't take this face, you guys.
and this
AND THIS
Anyway, Imma go now before I geek all over you guys, but let me just say, if you haven't already, watch this show!

Sarah Allen

p.s. I know yesterday and today were both nerdgasms about shows, hope thats okay :) Back to our regularly scheduled writing weirdness soon :)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for One Last Drink

My music selections often contain quite a few ballads. A lot of the music I like is melodic and gorgeous, but often slow and a little bit sad. So when I find completely fun and upbeat music that I like (Mika) I make extra sure to keep track of it.

Here's one of my go to happy songs. Check it out :)

One Last Drink by Enter the Haggis

What's your go to happy song?

Enjoy!

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Night Vale


It's a little hard to describe Welcome to Night Vale.

I guess the best explanation would be to imagine a podcast like Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon mixed with some Neil Gaiman and Stephen King.

The description on their website is this:
WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff's Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.
Turn on your radio and hide.
This description somewhat conveys the delightful shiver-down-your-spineness of the show. It's not horror, per se, but it does live in the world of things that go bump in the night.

What this description does not fully convey is how profound the show can be.

 As with King and Gaiman and Keillor, there is an incredibly thought-provoking depth underneath the darkness and the humor. It is so well written and so well put together that I spend the 20-30 minutes per episode just in awe.
They have a huge variety of awesome and very off-beat music and some incredible guest stars (like Mara Wilson.) Their Twitter account makes me flinch and laugh and think every day.

So please. Do yourself a favor and just listen to the first episode. (There are lots of ways to do that, but here's an easy one).


And now, the weather...

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Meetup

Have you ever used Meetup.com? I wanted to highlight this tool today because I think its one that often goes vastly underrated for us writers.

Even when our lives are filled with friends and family, these people can occasionally not quite understand some of the quirks that come with being a writer. They just don't happen to be people with whom we can really discuss the plot hole we just found in our WIP, or the latest news from the publishing industry. They may be fully supportive and lovely about our writing, and I believe we do need non-writers in our lives. They can often keep us grounded and sane.

However, we also need fellow writers. That is one of the best things in my opinion about the blogosphere and other social media outlets. I've said this before and I'll say it again: I have learned more about the publishing biz from reading the great author blogs out there than I have in any other way. The fellowship and support I have found in this community of online writers has made all the difference for me, and I will be forever grateful.

But we need IRL writer friends too.

I'm lucky enough to have a group of best friends that are also writers, and to even live with one. We talk about the writing process and our current projects and afterwards I always feel motivated. We edit each other's work and I know they have helped me become a better writer.

We've all become spread out, though, and I communicate with most of them through Skype. Plus, I think in general it's just a really good idea to regularly get yourself out into your local writing community, and that brings me to Meetup.com.

Although I've known about Meetup for a while it isn't something I've seriously looked into until very recently. And I'm kind of wowed by what I'm finding. Seriously, I encourage you to just go to Meetup.com and type in your town and look up 'Writers.' Here in Vegas I found a plethora of good options. For example, I plan on attending for the first time the monthly meeting of the Las Vegas Writers Group on Thursday. There is also an RWA group that has an open to the public monthly meeting at the nearby library. (If any of you are in the Vegas area and planning on attending these events, I would love to meet up!)

Anyway, I'm just really excited to meet some local fellow writers and make those connections and build that support. I know great things can come of this, and I wanted to share.

If you've used Meetup.com before, let us know how it goes. And if you find some cool meetups in your area, post a link in the comments so others that might be in your area can see what awesomeness is going.

Sarah Allen

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Loyalty

We are all working to build our own personal readership. Or as Seth Godin calls it, our "tribe." Every artist relies on their team of loyal followers for support. We couldn't do what we do without them.

So how do we cultivate that loyalty? How do we make investing in our books and stories worth other peoples valuable time--something our readers trust and will come back to time and time again?

Here are a few things we can do:

Be Generous. I like finding blogs of authors I love and seeing that they are just as kind and generous with their advice and comments online as their books are wonderful. Or just watching interviews online and seeing that my favorite authors are also kind people. It's always a little disappointing when they're not. So be generous and kind in your interactions with your readers, whether online or in real life. Because we're all equal, and we're all in this together, right?

Be Active. It helps to cultivate reader loyalty when we remain an active part of our readers lives. By that I mean we are actively providing work of value. I know the trend lately is for writers to pump out as many books a year as physically possible, and I'm not saying we have to do that. Writing a book takes as long as it takes. But we can interact with readers online or put out short stories or collaborate on an anthology or make YouTube videos or publish a picture book. Whatever works for you. I feel like J.K. Rowling has done a great job of this, if you think about it. It was a major moment in basically the everybody's lives when the last Harry Potter book came out, but Rowling has kept the ball...well, rolling. The movies were still coming out, and she put out the companion books like Fantastic Beasts and Beetle the Bard. Then she wrote more books and made Pottermore and an amusement park and is now working on another movie. Basically I just think its wise to keep things going, however you think its best to keep them going.

Be Consistent. It also helps if you can be part of a readers routine. I know, for example, that on Sundays, I can look forward to Anne R. Allen's weekly blog post (I was fortunate enough to be able to crash her blog party last week, if you haven't seen it.) I know that John Green will post a Vlogbrothers video every Tuesday, and that a new episode of Night Vale will post on the first and fifteenth of every month. Because these things are consistent, they become a part of my routine and I visit regularly rather than when I happen to think about it. We can create loyal fans by becoming part of their routine.

These are just a few simple mindsets that I think can be helpful in our efforts to cultivate a loyal readership. What other strategies for cultivating this type of loyalty have you seen work?

Sarah Allen

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Kindred Spirits

When I find someone who likes this man as much as I do:

When I find someone who knows every word to every Billy Joel song

When I find someone who can quote every line of The Emperor's New Groove or The Grinch with Jim Carrey

When I find someone who has read the collected works of C. S. Lewis

When I find someone who thinks Colin Firth is hotter than Orlando Bloom

When I find someone with whom I can spend hours analyzing Disney and Pixar movies.

When I find someone who hates dark chocolate and loves bread pudding

When I find someone who owns picture books by Don and Audrey Wood

When I find someone who would pick Alaska over Hawaii

When I find someone who carries Wallace Stegner in one hand and Stephen King in the other (and maybe some Gary Schmidt or Louis Sacchar in their bag for good measure)

When I find someone who watches more Animal Planet than MTV

When I find someone who knows what comes after the words, "And now, the weather..."

When I find someone who misses Rugrats and The Wild Thornberries and Courage the Cowardly Dog and maybe still watches Phineas and Ferb (only sometimes okay?)

When I find someone who appreciates the genius of Stephen Sondheim and knows the words to The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

When I find someone who knows that Meryl Streep could play Batman and not be wrong for the part

When anybody says the words Niles Crane

I know I've found a kindred spirit.

What are sure kindred signs for you?

Sarah Allen

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Joining Online Writing Communities


We talk a lot about general social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. They are very, very valuable because we want to connect with the general population to get our books out there, not just other writers.

However, I think joining certain writing communities can be super, super valuable. They can provide:

1) Writerly support and advice. Especially if we're just starting out, this can be incredibly helpful. We can get tips and advice on the creative process and the biz of being a writer.

2) Motivation. I know I feel a lot more inspired to write after talking with my writer friends.

3) Readers. Yes we need to expand our marketing to include non-writers, but really, writers in many ways make the best readers.

I'm bringing this up today because I just joined a writing community that has just started growing explosively, and I'm liking what I'm seeing. It's been my obsession for the past couple days, and I've been having a lot of fun. I know there are tons of writing communities out there but I wanted to spotlight just this one, and you can tell me about any other ones you really like in the comments.

The writing community I recently joined is Wattpad.

It's recent growth has been remarkable, and the projected future growth is even bigger. Now's the time to get in, and I wish I'd discovered it sooner. Maybe I'm slow on the draw.

Anyway, Wattpad is a website and mobile app that lets writers post their works and follow other writers updates as they continue their works in progress. It's been called "the YouTube for books." I've been surprised at the number of traditionally published authors on there who have posted their entire manuscripts, and as a free introduction and reader enticement, it makes sense to me. If you have a back list or some older self-pubbed works you think might do well as a freebie, this might be a good place to do it.

I have noticed that the audience tends to be on the younger side, which is something I've noticed with other online writing communities as well. They're just good places to foster support and encouragement for the beginning writers out there. But I think it can be hugely beneficial for writers at any stage of their career.

Anyway, check it out, see if its something you are interested in incorporating. If so, or if you're already a Wattpader, check out my profile and the freebies I've got up, and maybe drop a note and say hi!

Write on!

Sarah Allen

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Iambic Pentameter

I'm just going to leave you with possibly my favorite iambic pentameter poem. Read by Alan Rickman. That's right.

Sonnet 130
William Shakespeare

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Jared and Jerusha Hess

Now, I'm going to start off acknowledging that J and J Hess's stuff is not everybody's cup of tea. They are the couple that did Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. Also Austenland and Gentlemen Broncos, which I submit may be their best work, though lesser known.

Whether or not you liked Napolean Dynamite, here me out. I think there are things all of us writers can learn from Jared and Jerusha Hess.

I personally think they are pretty much comedic geniuses. I watched Gentlemen Broncos the other night and basically spent two straight hours laughing my guts out.

Here's the thing. The two of them know exactly what they're doing. All of their movies have the same slow, gloriously awkward almost mockumentary feel. They work hard to perfect their specific craft, and its found its audience. A wide one.

I also just love their story. I love hearing about independent artists who just did such great work on their own weird little thing and found just enough luck that it exploded out of its niche and became this huge thing, and that's exactly what happened with Napoleon Dynamite. Nobody expected it to become what it became. But because Jared and Jerusha knew what they were going for, kept creative integrity and were business savvy, things worked out brilliantly. And that success allowed them to keep that ball rolling with Nacho Libre, where they were even able to bring in big name actors like Jack Black.

So whether or not the odd feel of their movies sits well with you, their combination of creative integrity and industry know-how is something we can all learn from. We can work hard to make our own weird little things more widely marketable, and still keep them our weird little things. That way we will find out niche, and with a dash of luck, our niche will explode.

I can't leave without one more plug for Gentlemen Broncos. I do think it may be their best movie, and I don't know why nobody's heard of it. And since it's about writers, it may interest some in this crowd. Do yourself a favor and just watch the trailer:


Enjoy!

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for Group Effort

It is a truth universally acknowledged that writing can be a solitary endeavor. The romanticized image of a writer slaving away in a basement for days on end might not be entirely accurate, but we writers aren't exactly social butterflies. We're pretty known for being introverts, in general.

This is a good thing. Introspection and quietude are great qualities for a writer. However, if we lean to much on those qualities we run the risk of thinking we have to do everything ourselves. And that's just not true, and not productive.

So its basically up to us to do the actual writing. That is the solitary effort part of the writing game. However, basically every other aspect of building a writing career can involve other people. Not just that, but things can go more effectively and productively when we make them a group effort.

We an involve other people with:

Writing groups and book groups (obviously)
Cover design
Editing
Social media
Blogging
Website design
Anthologies
Illustrations
Brainstorming
Marketing

And lots of other things! By involving other people we can simultaneously create better work and also make things easier on ourselves.

So don't be afraid to ask for help! Building a successful writing career truly is a group effort.

What about you guys? What collaborations and group efforts have worked particularly well for you?

Sarah Allen

Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for Film Poetry

There are so many ways to publish your work creatively. One of those ways is film poetry, often called video poetry.

There are so many different ways to do it, I thought I'd just show you a few of my favorites (plus one of my own) and see if they inspire you.


Enjoy!!

Sarah Allen

Saturday, April 5, 2014

E is for Eponine

Have you ever had that experience where you're watching a movie or reading a book and about half way through you're like, this side character is a lot more interesting and engaging than the main character.

It kind of happens to me a lot.

I have pretty much always been annoyed by Marius and Cozette since I read Les Miserables. They're okay, but Eponine is just so much cooler. She's clever, a little bit funny, and most especially, not wishy-washy and spineless like Marius and Cozette occasionally are.

Look at Lord of the Rings as another example. I would be more than okay submitting that Frodo is pretty much the least interesting character in the series. Aragorn is pretty epic, and Gimli is hilarious, but you know who the best character is? Samwise Gamgee of course! His loyalty, stubborness, optimism and just all-around Hobbitness make him the best of all the things.

Or take Harry Potter. Harry himself is pretty cool, but I personally find characters like Snape and Remus a lot more interesting.

I think I've discovered a similarity in all the stories in which I find secondary characters a lot more interesting than the MC's. All of them are Ensemble stories. They rely on a big cast. Harry Potter, LOTR and Les Miserables all have a host of intricately woven character arcs. In Ensemble stories like that, I think it works to have a more neutral main character, because they sort of act as the nucleus for all the crazies running about around them. Maybe Sam and Gandalf and Aragorn are cooler than Frodo, but their stories and their coolness sort of revolve around Frodo. Same with Harry Potter and Les Miserables.

My roommate and I went to the new Captain America movie last night (SO GOOD!) and without giving away any spoilers, probably my favorite moment was when a very minor and very terrified secondary character chose to stand up to the bad guys even though he literally had a gun to his head. So even though it was a very hero-centric movie, and I absolutely adore Cap, stories can still be enhanced by emotionally engaging secondary and minor characters.

And I can't help but leave you with my favorite song from Les Miserables, in large part due to the soul shakingly good voice of another E character--Enjoras.


What do you think? Are there secondary characters that you like better than their main character counterparts?

Sarah Allen

Friday, April 4, 2014

D is for Dreams (and how to use them)


Here's what happens in my dreams: In the next year or two, I get an agent and a contract with a major publisher, and my book instantly rockets to number one New York Times bestseller. I go on a book tour all over Europe and go on a Nerdfighter tour with John and Hank Green. At the end of the tour I have a stint on Oprah to talk about my book. In the next year I publish another novel, a picture book, and a non-fiction travel/history book that inspires National Geographic to call me up and see if I'll take a trip to Africa and write an article for them. I also give a talk at a TED conference. While all this is happening I finish my next novel and more picture books and also a screenplay that gets quickly optioned by a Hollywood production studio and stars Michael Emerson and Meryl Streep. When these whirlwind years are over I settle down with a Cavalier King Charles spaniel and a guy with a grin like Colin Firth and hair like Gustavo Dudamel. I continue writing bestselling novels and taking trips to places like Alaska, England, and Kenya.

Natalie Whipple and Charlotte Rains Dixon wrote posts yesterday focusing on working towards realistic goals, and working on things we actually have control over. I strongly encourage all y'all to check out the wonderful posts. They have some fantastic and practical advice.

The thing is, we all have our own flying whales--things we dream about but know just aren't part of our little world. There is no way I can expect to go on Oprah or on a tour with John Green or write an article for National Geographic or give a TED talk. They are my flying whales.

So what do we do with them? We absolutely need to be practical and 100% realistic or we're just setting ourselves up for failure. But does that mean we have to kill our flying whales and get rid of them completely?

I don't think so. I acknowledge that I'm a bit of a cock-eyed optimist, but I believe we can use our head in the clouds dreams to guide the feet we have planted on solid ground.

Here's the thing. In my dream world, there are plenty of things I don't have control over, but there are some things I do. Yeah, there's no way I'm going to get published by National Geographic, especially not this year. But. If I accept that flying whale dream, that can provide me some realistic direction. Maybe I can't get into National Geographic tomorrow, but I can research and write articles for other history and travel magazines. I don't have control over my script getting optioned or who gets cast, but I do have control over working on a script every day and how and when I submit it. What I mean is, I can still run as hard as I can toward the dream world, even if I know I'll only get part way there. It gives me a direction. And if we work hard we may get further than we dreamed.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for Comedians

I just wanted to put it out there that comedians are some of the most underrated genius writers working today. If any of you watch Jimmy Fallon, Steven Colbert or Ellen Degeneres you know what I mean.

So I thought I'd just leave you with three of my favorite comedians.

Brian Regan

Jim Gaffigan


Mitch Hedberg

Enjoy the laughs!!

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B is for Benedict (Yes. Cumberbatch.)


I know, I know, I talked about Colin Firth yesterday and I'm dedicating a whole post to the one and only Benedict Cumberbatch today, but now I just have to find a way to work in Meryl Streep and my fangirling will be over. (Ha. Ha ha.)

But don't worry, this is going to be more than just a gushy post. I could go on and on (and on) about Benedict's cheekbones alone, but our friend Benny is much more than just a pretty face. He has a freakish amount of talent and has made some smart decisions in his career that I think we writers can learn from.

So here we go.

Five Things Writers Can Learn from Benedict Cumberbatch

1. Do good work by playing to your strengths. Benedicts sharp features and low, rumbly voice are not just ridiculously swoonworthy, they have enabled him to fit well into roles like Sherlock Holmes and Smaug the dragon. If you watch Benedict, he has two sides that can almost be split into dark versus vulnerable, (Occasionally even goofy. Photobombing U2 at the Oscars, anyone?) He's tapped into that unique combination, sometimes emphasizing the dark (Kahn) and sometimes more vulnerable (Hawking). He knows what he can do, and does it brilliantly.

2. Be pleasant to work with. Every interview I've seen when people talk about working with Benedict Cumberbatch, the person always mentions how nice he is, and how easy he is to work with. It's pretty much as simple as that. If you're nice to work with, people will want to work with you. And that way, you can...

3. Work with fantastic people. Martin Freeman's face in that graveyard scene in the season 2 finale of Sherlock...I can't even. Martin Freeman absolutely keeps up with Benedict in that series, and I personally even see the power balance shifting in Martin's direction in season 3. And the creator/writer of the series, Steven Moffat, is also a genius, and has given Martin and Benedict absolutely genius writing to work with. To make that show as successful as its been, Benedict needed to not only be brilliant, which he was, but also work with brilliant people, which he did. There's success enough for all of us, and helping each other is the best way we have of getting there.

4. Vary your work. This is one of the more specifically strategic things I've noticed Benedict doing lately, and I don't know if it's a conscious decision or if he's just naturally making smart choices. The two movies he did in the past year were The Hobbit and 12 Years a Slave, and I don't think you get more varied than that. By taking on such a wide variety of roles he has been able to be in commercial blockbuster movies like Star Trek as well as play with the Oscars crowd. I think that's a lesson we can all learn from.

5. Be sharable and niche. I know that sounds like two things, but let me explain what I mean. The internet subculture absolutely adores Benedict Cumberbatch. If I'm not mistaken he was the most shared person on Tumblr last year. This happened because Benedict Cumberbatch was both niche, and sharable. He was niche because of his roles in Sherlock and Star Trek, franchises the people of the interwebz have adored for a long time. They fit the internet's niche. (The interesting thing is that he was so strongly niche he's now starting to explode into a mega star in blockbuster and Oscar nominated movies.) He is also immensely, ridiculously sharable. Do I need to explain why?

And we don't need knife-sharp cheekbones and luminescent eyes to be niche and sharable, either. All we need to do is tell our own, unique types of stories, stick true to them, and then find visual and sharable ways to reach out to the internet community in our marketing. That's something we can all do, regardless of facial features.

There you have it. Five things we writers can learn from Benedict Cumberbatch. Anything else I should add to this list?

Sarah Allen

P.S. Welcome to all the new A to Z visitors! I invite you to subscribe to this here bloggy blog or connect on Facebook or Twitter or any of the other places via the big red buttons on the left side and make sure to leave me links to your profiles so we can stay cyber friends even when April is over, and forever! (And have Benedict's chrystaline eyes staring in to your soul for ever and ever and ever...)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A is for Adaptation

And here we go, everybody! The beginning of April, which means the A to Z challenge has officially begun!

As I said before, around here we're going to be talking about writing and creativity and marketing as an author and all that good stuff.

When I was coming up with topics for the month, my roommate (who knows me way too well) suggested I start with A is for Acolin Firth. And then B is for Bcolin Firth. (It's super super funny late at night when you make the sounds like Ahhcolin Firth. Trust me.) Anyway, I thought about it, and who doesn't want more Colin Firth, but alas, we're going to try and be serious. Very serious. Serious as a coffin nail. And everyone knows, coffin nails are theriuth bithneth.

Um, but here's a picture of Colin Firth anyway.


So. Adaptation. No, not the movie with Meryl Streep and Nicolas Cage (I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that the two of them exist on the same planet, let alone in one movie.)

Think of how many movies are adaptations of books. Lately it seems like every movie is an adaptation. But direct adaptation can be a very, very useful tool for novelists too, not just screenwriters.

I recently read a great book called A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan which is a futuristic, sci-fi adaptation of Sleeping Beauty. And think of all the great books by writers like Gregory Maguire and Robin McKinley that are adaptations of classic fairy tales. And we don't have to stop at fairy tales. Basically everything Shakespeare wrote was an adaptation of something else, and look how incredibly that turned out.

I think we writers worry so much about being original, when really that may be one of the worst things we can do. The best of all the people ever of all C. S. Lewis said, "in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it." This applies when we're telling our own stories or if we're adapting other stories and making them our own.

I've always thought it would be fascinating to take secondary characters from fairy tales and find different ways of adapting their stories. I mean, Gepetto is pretty fascinating if you ask me, and I want to know more about him. And Captain Hook, although there are lots of great writers who have given us more of his story.

What stories and characters do you think it would be fun to adapt?

Sarah Allen

P.S. Welcome to all the new A to Z visitors! I invite you to subscribe to this here bloggy blog or connect on Facebook or Twitter or any of the other places via the big red buttons on the left side and make sure to leave me links to your profiles so we can stay cyber friends even when April is over, and forever! (And ever and ever and ever. I'm not the person staring in at your window. But I like your shirt. Just kidding, I'm not a creeper. Usually. Please be my friend.)

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