Who is Your Dream Agent?

I realized something today: I don't have a dream agent. I mean, I have agents I like, agents I've heard of, agents who represent authors I love and/or write like me. But the truth is I'm too analytical to have a dream agent.

My dream agent has to be perfect: I like them and they like me, they love what I write, their revision process meshes with the way I work.* But it's impossible to know all that until you meet someone and actually work with them.

But lots of other people have dream agents, so I'm throwing it out to you. Who is your dream agent and why? What do you like about them? (You don't have to name names, of course. I've queried a bit. I know how it is.)

And if you already have an agent, that's even better! Tell us what you love about them in the comments.

* Also they have the ability to get me a six-figure, three-book deal within a week.

How to Write a Terrible Sequel

Brought to you by 17 years of Disney direct-to-video animated sequels.

LOWER THE STAKES. Make the conflict less important and less exciting than the original. Like in Cinderella 2, in which Cinderella stresses about throwing the perfect party for her new father, the king. Wonderful!

CREATE CONFLICT OUT OF NOWHERE. Conflict should never arise naturally from the original's conclusion. It should appear as though you made it up on the spot, just so you could have something to write about. Like in Kronk's New Groove, where Kronk wants to impress his father who was never proud of him--a conflict and character not even hinted at in the original.

INTRODUCE A WHOLE NEW SET OF CHARACTERS WHO FOLLOW THE SAME EMOTIONAL ARC AS THE ORIGINAL ONES. That way you avoid TWO common pitfalls: giving the audience more time with the characters they love AND giving them a unique story as interesting as the first.

Do it like they did in Little Mermaid 2. Ariel('s daughter) desperately wants to be a mermaid instead of a human (see what they did there?), so Ursula('s sister) tricks her into a deal to get her hands on Triton's trident. They even replaced Sebastian and Scuttle with a comic relief penguin and walrus. Genius!

TURN A PREVIOUSLY SYMPATHETIC CHARACTER INTO SOMEONE THE AUDIENCE HATES. In the original Mulan, Mushu is the victim, mocked and despised by Mulan's ancestors until he can prove himself by aiding Mulan in her quest. But in Mulan 2, the writers gave us an unexpected twist. Mushu is now the taunter, treating the ancestors like his servants. When he discovers that Mulan's upcoming marriage will mean he doesn't get pampered anymore, he tries to break them up. How can you not love that?

And a bonus method, brought to you by midi-chlorians and the planet Zeist:

IF THERE WAS A MYSTERY IN THE ORIGINAL, PROVIDE AN EXPLANATION THAT IS LAMER THAN ANYTHING THE READER COULD'VE COME UP WITH THEMSELVES. This is the crowning achievement of a terrible sequel: when it is so bad, that it makes the original suck even more just by being made. Where the reader has to pretend the sequel never happened in order to enjoy the original again.

If you can do that, you no longer need my help.

5 Reasons You Should Read Dune

I noticed some of you haven't read Dune. That's okay. I mean, there's TONS of books I haven't read. But because Dune is one of my favorites, I thought I'd give you a few (more) reasons to read it.

Sandworms. In the desert, these ginormous creatures follow any vibrations that feel like life. One of them will swallow you whole before you realize those are its teeth rising out of the sand all around you.

Fremen. They're like desert ninjas. You know the sandworms? These guys ride them.

Spice. It turns your eyes blue, enables faster-than-light space travel, sometimes gives visions of the future, and tastes like cinnamon. What more could you want? Well, maybe something less addictive, I suppose.

Sting. Okay, so he's not in the book. He was in the movie (that you should never see), but you can imagine him while you're reading.

Arrakis. Imagine a world with almost no water at all, where you need a special suit to reuse as much of your body's fluids as possible, where massive sandstorms rage across the surface, rivaled in their destructive power by only the monstrous sandworms that prowl the desert. It should've been a useless world, except for one thing: the spice. Without it, travel between the worlds is impossible and the Galactic Empire crumbles, and the spice is only found on Arrakis.

He who controls the spice controls the universe.

Have you read Dune? If so, what's your favorite part about it? If not, why the heck not?

The Peeta Complex

So there's this book called THE HUNGER GAMES. If you don't know it, go read it now. Seriously, it'll be worth it (the book, that is--I can't promise the same for this post).

You like it? It's one of my very favorites. That's important to know, because I'm about to bag on one of the characters, but do understand: I love this book.

So, Peeta. He's perfect, isn't he? Strong, sensitive, artistic, and willing to do absolutely anything for the girl he loves--even though she's never shown any affection for him (the opposite, actually) and has few redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Not that I don't like Katniss. She's an awesome survivor, and she takes care of those she loves. I just don't see what Peeta sees to make him repeatedly sacrifice everything for her.

It's not just Peeta. I've read a number of recent YA novels in which the protagonist inexplicably gains the affections of the Perfect Guy, and keeps them even though she's very clear that she loves someone else, or at least doesn't like him. Sometimes he wins her over, sometimes she feels she doesn't deserve him, and sometimes he tragically dies for her. Oh, so tragically.

It doesn't matter what happens to him, though, the point is HE IS IMAGINARY.

Just like real life Bad Boys are not often redeemable (sorry, ladies, they're just jerks), so real life Nice Guys will not wait years and years, sacrificing everything they have until the girl who obviously doesn't like them comes around.

Sorry, girls. There are nice guys out there, but we're not all strong and handsome, and most of us will move on once we've been spurned. (We're nice, not perfect.)

If you love the Perfect Guy trope, or you're writing it, don't worry. It's not Wrong, and I've never hated a book because of it, just rolled my eyes sometimes.

It's not hard to fix either: give the boy flaws. Peeta's problem was he was too perfect. His greatest weakness was his inability to see how perfect he was (which: really? not a flaw). Real guys are sometimes a little arrogant, a little vindictive, a little dishonest. It doesn't make us jerks or bad guys, it just makes us human, believable. Believe it or not, it works in fiction, too.

Have you noticed the Peeta complex? Does it bug you, or (like most things) is it just me? Let me know!

Books I Read: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Like dystopia?* The Alliterati are giving away 4 YA dystopian novels over at the Secret Archives. Check it out!

* See what I did there?

Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Genre: YA zombie dystopian
Published: 2009
Content Rating: R for zombie violence

All her life, Mary has only known the village--the Sisterhood that rules it, the fences that surround it, and the ever-hungry Unconsecrated trying to get in. Life is...okay--restricting, depressing, and the boy she likes is marrying her best friend--but things get worse when Mary learns secrets about the Sisterhood that threaten to destroy them all.

This book hooked me pretty fast. Even the cover and the title make me want to read it (plus I have a thing for zombie apocalypses). The writing--something I rarely care about in favor of a good story--is fantastic. It's beautiful, creepy, and tense.

I did have a problem whenever Mary did something stupid. I know, she's been through a lot and doesn't have much hope, but it was hard for me to excuse her occasionally-risky behavior in a world where the smallest risk can get you zombified. Other than that, I thought this book was great. The zombie scenes were properly scary, and the world was properly interesting.

I've read some folks who were upset that not all secrets were revealed, nor all questions answered, but that didn't bother me at all. They gave the information I cared about, and I can fill in what I like pretty readily. If you like zombie stories, check this one out.

5 Things to Know About Multiple POVs

  1. It's a normal and common structure. I know folks who aren't sure if multiple POVs are okay or not. They are. Some examples: Westerfeld's LEVIATHAN, Gaiman's NEVERWHERE, most of Terry Pratchett's DISCWORLD novels, Sanderson's MISTBORN trilogy, Card's ENDER'S GAME (those snippets of conversation at the beginning of each chapter constitute a separate POV), and many, many more.
  2. Multiple POVs can be used with any narrator except an omniscient one. Third person limited is the most common, but in theory it could be done with first person too. Though I suspect it would be more difficult to signal whose POV it is.
  3. Switching POVs is jarring. Readers get used to being in someone's head, and it's easy to forget what's going on when they rejoin an old character. You have to signal to the reader not only that the POV has changed, but who it has changed to, where they are, and what they're doing. Some ideas:
    • Switch only at chapter or scene breaks.
    • Switch consistently (e.g. alternate every other chapter between two characters).
    • Get the POV character's name and situation as close to the first sentence as possible.
    • Give each POV character a unique narrative voice.
  4. Switching POVs is a chance for the reader to put the book down. That means, in addition to signalling to the reader whose POV it is, you also have to make each POV shift start somewhere interesting, with a hook to immediately draw the reader back in. Every. Time.
  5. Each POV character should matter. Don't use a character's perspective just because you need to show certain interesting events. Use that character because they are interesting, because they have their own arc and crucial decisions. Ask yourself, if this perspective were the only one in your novel, would it be worth reading?
Have you ever written with multiple POVs? What would you suggest?

    What Stops You From Reading?

    It's rare that a book bothers me so much I have to put it down (especially if my to-be-read pile is small, an event which happens all too often out here). In 2.5 years I've read over 70 books (thanks, Goodreads) and only stopped 3. But there are a few things that might stop me from reading a book.

    I hate a main character. They're arrogant, stupid, or both, to the point where reading about them makes me feel angry and/or dumb. It has to be pretty bad, though. I mean, I've never stopped reading a James Patterson novel.

    It's boring. Usually this will be because there is some promised tension in the beginning, then pages and pages pass before the tension is ever brought up again. I'll put up with slow books, though, if something else is driving me: a fascinating world, witty banter, or sometimes just a friend who said it was worth the whole read.

    The writing pisses me off. This is really, really rare. I don't normally care about quality prose one way or the other--even when it's not very good, I can still get through it so long as it makes sense. But there was this one book, with a host of featureless characters and As You Know, Bob dialog oozing out of its spine. I stopped that one on page 62 and never looked back.

    So what stops you from reading a book?