Friday, March 16, 2018

Emotional Battlegrounds

The topic for blog posts this month is battlegrounds. But I’d like to focus on emotional battlegrounds. Don’t get me wrong. Actual battles are important for YA writing. Conflict needs to come to fruition since stakes can’t be hypothetical, meaning there needs to be a payoff. An emotional battleground informs YA writing, though, because characters need stakes and goals, as emotional layering is ultimately the last aspect of writing that authors need to master. For example, a writer can improve with imagery, voice, and dialogue, but might not understand the emotional aspect of YA fiction.

To help give an example of emotional battlegrounds, I’d like to mention my YA Fantasy novel IN THE NAME OF MAGIC (which is forthcoming from NineStar Press with a tentative release date of June 11, 2018). I don’t just have intense action, there’s also a lot at stake emotionally, and not just for my main character. One example is my main character, Maximillian, who hides his non-magical best friend, Katherine, when Queen Vivian wages a campaign against non-magical people. The obvious implication is Maximillian and his parents risk life or death by giving Katherine shelter. And while that fact is true, there’s more. The emotional layer is that Maximillian is always in a heightened state. The concrete detail (hiding Katherine) informs how he feels in any given moment since he needs to navigate life carefully. Stefan and Anastasia are another example of illustrating emotional battlegrounds. They have their own reasons for hating Queen Vivian (their older sister), and that fact informs their choices and feelings throughout the novel.

Depth is also important for emotional battlegrounds, and I’m not just talking about what is at stake for one character. I’m also referring to when an issue pops in YA fiction. With IN THE NAME OF MAGIC, said issue is oppression against non-magical people. Obviously, oppression and bigotry is wrong. However, I don’t want the issue to be cartoon-like, which means I need a character to take Queen Vivian’s side. And that character is Taylor. Just like in real life when people are on the wrong sides of issues, Taylor is also on the wrong side of oppression against non-magical despite how he’s dating Katherine (a non-magical person). Furthermore, I give Taylor a real reason why he would be on the wrong side of oppression, i.e. he’s not a flat character since his family has been having financial trouble, and that’s why he supports Queen Vivian—she’s offering the snake oil of fixing Magnifico’s economic problems.  

Another way to look at emotional battlegrounds is banter. A scene doesn’t always have to be life or death to provide stakes. The former ABC television show Revenge might be TV as opposed to YA Fiction, but still illustrates the importance of emotional battlegrounds. The main character, Emily, always has intense banter with her enemy, Victoria, even when weapons aren’t present. The banter between Emily and Victoria goes beyond melodrama. There intense verbal confrontations are always rooted in concrete facts as opposed to only trading insults.

Anyway, I hope the above discussion about emotional battlegrounds helps, and informs your writing!!!

Thursday, March 15, 2018


When people think of a battle, most envision soldiers and tanks, warships and weapons … possibly rifles and a cavalry. But there are many types of personal battles, as Fiona mentioned in her previous blog post. These include internal moral battles, relationship conflicts, and personal vendettas. How your character deals with these issues is very telling and gives the reader much insight into that individual’s personality. It’s also a chance for you as a writer to provide an opportunity for your character to grow and ratchet up the tension in your story.

So how do you write a compelling battle scene, whether it be an actual fight, where the loser may wind up injured or dead, or a clash between two high school rivals fighting to become class president? I’m not sure if this is true for every writer, but when I write tense scenes, there’s always an urge to resolve the conflict quickly and move on. This is how I operate in life, as confrontation makes me anxious. But the reader doesn’t want a fight that’s resolved quickly and easily—without conflict there is no story!

So, if you’re like me and want to smooth out your MC's hardships asap, how do you build suspense and write an exciting fight scene?

I believe it was The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell that gave me some of the best advice for writing tense scenes. (Even if I’m wrong, it’s a great book—it’s been quite a few years since I’ve read it, and definitely deserves a reread.) To summarize the advice: whenever you have the opportunity to resolve the battle, throw another problem into the mix.

So, let’s say your MC is in a dangerous situation that results in an actual fight scene. Most readers will root for the protagonist to win, but how much fun would it be to read about the character throwing one punch and knocking the antagonist out cold? It’s better to create a fierce battle where the MC is the underdog, makes a comeback, and then just before success, something happens—the character drops a weapon, another person blindsides the MC, etc. The more the odds are against your protagonist, the greater the victory will be. Because in the end, most readers want the good guys to prevail.  

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Marching into battle

This month, we're looking at marching our characters into battle. Now, I could take the obvious route and discuss good old fight scenes, but I'm pretty sure one of my other YATopian buddies will have that covered. So, instead, I'm going to consider the internal battlefield your MC has to contend with throughout the entire book.

It's important to know what your MC's internal battleground is. This is where you look deep at the root of your MC's conflict. What are the polar opposite feelings they have? Your character needs to struggle, so you need to think "opposing sides." Once you know the basic two emotional "armies" so to speak, you then need to break it down further. You don't have just side A and side B. If it was an actual army, they would be broken down into units - infantry, cavalry, etc. How does this relate to your MC's inner conflict? These are the layers of emotions you have. For example:

Say your character is in love with their co-worker, but they are both going for the same promotion. Perhaps you have chosen the opposing emotions of competitiveness and selflessness for your MC. Your character is competitive by nature and wants, needs perhaps for a physical reason, this promotion. However, they are selfless by nature, and this is the person they love they are competing against. So, what to do? What other emotions hide in there? Let's look at these armies...


Infantry - fear of failure
Cavalry - desire to prove oneself
Artillery -  sense of self-worth


Infantry -feeling like a good person
Cavalry - approval
Artillery - battling against the bad parts of their nature and trying to outdo them

Okay, so this is a simple example, but hopefully it will show that when you think of your MC's internal battleground, you can go past the basic conflict, and really dig in and find lots of layers to really bring your internal battlefield to life.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Swoon-Worthy Characters of YAtopia

To wrap up our swoon-worthy month, a couple YAtopians so kindly gave us a peak into what makes their characters swoon-worthy.

Emily Moore's swoon-worthy character is named Vaku. Here's what she shared with us:

Vaku the desert elf rebel leader offers readers many opportunities to love him. Upon first meeting my main character Samana, he offers to help her rescue a friend against impossible odds, cleans her wounded hands, and feeds her before she disappears.

Two years later, they reunite. She accidently kills him with her unpracticed magic and revives him with the same magic. Despite this, Vaku offers a comedy relief to Samana’s serious and pessimistic character, often teasing her with passages from the Great Essence’s prayer when she is obviously not exemplifying them.

His fierce protective instincts for Samana reveal themselves in sacrificial ways: leaving the rebellion seat to go with her to the enemy’s cliff city, degrading himself to a servant of the household that he despises, giving Samana his beloved knife and teaching her self-defense, and shaving his unique red hair in an effort to blend in and stay close to Samana. Lastly, battle scars are sexy; Vaku’s amputated hand lends him a broken quality that makes his easy-going nature that much more endearing. I’d call Vaku incredibly swoon worthy!

An excerpt from my W.I.P. “Samana’s Flair”:
"Don't you dare try to get into the Holding Place. You will get yourself trapped inside," Vaku predicted, shaking his finger playfully at her.
"Don't tell me what I can't and can do!" Samana snapped, widening her nostrils. How dare he. Just like all the other wonderers she’d ever known besides Dimerez. Determined to tell her who she was and where she didn’t belong. She wasn’t a child.
"I'm just saying, me and the cart might not be there to hide you next time," Vaku jested with a snicker.
Samana jumped to her feet with a snarl.
"I don't need you or anyone else to tell me what to do. I will make it on my own. Thanks for the bread," she huffed, stomping further down the path toward the Chief’s Walk. The wide road wound out across the desert toward Benami’s farms and rock formations.
"Don't be like that," Vaku said, following her. "What are you so mad for?"
Samana paused to look back at him. The flickering of fire on the yucca window coverings of the surrounding pueblos only slightly illuminated Vaku's grin and raised eyebrow. She almost returned the smile, but instead let out an anger-diminishing breath. Shaking her head, she mumbled, "I have to go."
"May you walk gently!" Vaku called after her as the night's bitter-cold air singed her skin.

Thank you for sharing with us, Emily! If you want to connect with Emily Moore, you can find her here:
Email at

Next we have Chris's swoon-worthy character named Stefan. Here's what he shared with us: 

My most swoon-worthy character is 18-year-old Stefan from my YA Fantasy novel IN THE NAME OF MAGIC, which is the first book in a trilogy, and is forthcoming from NineStar Press this June. Stefan is the main character's love interest.

17-year-old Maximillian must offer shelter to his non-magical best friend (Katherine) while balancing his budding relationship with the evil queen's estranged younger brother, Stefan, in the backdrop of a contemporary fantasy Earth-like country plagued by a totalitarian monarchy.

Stefan is swoon-worthy because of his mysterious personality when readers are first introduced to him in Chapter 1 upon him meeting the main character (Maximillian). Stefan is evasive, yet I was careful for him not to be one-dimensional. He doesn't use his past to justify bad decisions; he's just damaged because of his past toxic family dynamics. Stefan also wears a half-mask for a third of the book, which is a physical symbol of his vulnerability.

Furthermore, Stefan is swoon-worthy because of how he always gives his boyfriend, Maximillian, the benefit of the doubt--even when some people might not. Including when Maximillian fibs about the real reason he agrees to a weekend getaway with Stefan.

Thank you for sharing Stefan with us, Chris! Keep your eyes peeled for IN THE NAME OF MAGIC coming in June 2018. 

Have you written a swoon-worthy character? Tell us what makes them swoon-worthy in the comments!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

GUESTOPIA: Australian Author, Allayne Webster

I'm thrilled to welcome to today's Guestopia spot a very successful Australian author and dedicated supporter and mentor within the Australian writing community. Please meet... 


Allayne grew up in the coastal fishing town of Kingston South East, South Australia. She’s the recipient of three SA Arts grants, a Board Member of the Salisbury Writers' Festival, and she helped to establish the Women's Professional Development Network Book Club at the University of Adelaide.

Allayne’s middle grade title, Paper Planes (Scholastic) was a 2016 CBC Notable Book and shortlisted for the Adelaide Festival Children’s Awards for Literature. Her other titles have appeared on similar lists, including the Inkys and the Premier’s Reading Challenge. In June 2017, Allayne released a middle grade novel, A Cardboard Palace (MidnightSun Publishing) and Swedish rights have been sold. On 29 January 2018, she’ll release a YA novel The Centre of My Everything with Penguin Random House, and in February 2018, a junior fiction novel with Scholastic, Sam’s Surfboard Showdown, co-authored and illustrated by her sister, Amanda S. Clarke.

Great to meet you, Allayne. Let’s get the interview underway.

Is this your first published book?

This is my third YA novel, seventh publication.

What’s it called?

The Centre of My Everything

Which genre/age group?

Contemporary YA realism. Upper YA.

Is it a series or standalone?


Are an agented author?

I am now. I wasn’t when this novel was accepted.

Which publisher snapped up your book?

Zoe Walton, Penguin Random House.

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?

Working with PRH has been nothing short of brilliant. They’re communicative, inclusive and considerate. I feel like I’ve been consulted at every turn. I’ve relished the experience.

Do you have another job?

When I first began writing this book eight years ago, I worked fulltime in administration at The University of Adelaide. Approximately three years ago, I quit to write fulltime—and to finish this bloody book!

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?

I lost count of the rejections. However, it’s a bit like the famed number of rejections JK Rowling received. When recounting that story, what they don’t focus on is how many times she polished that manuscript prior to the next submission. Essentially, I kept working until I got it right.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?

This novel has burned in me since childhood. It’s dedicated to my step-father
(whom cared for me from the age of five) and it explores issues close to my heart. Love is a great motivator, and I’ve written this story as a means of reflecting my love for my step-father and all he has ever done for me.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

There certainly wasn’t an architectural approach to this novel. I sat down, started writing and let the voices/scenes etc come to me. In hindsight, it’s probably why I took so long to get the damn thing right!

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?

I think I earned a black belt with this baby. It was thoroughly disagreeable from start to finish.

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?

I read a very early version of this manuscript to a crowded Women’s Breakfast, going back some seven years ago. Judging by the reception, at that point, I hadn’t got it right. I recall many grimacing faces staring back at me. I suspect attendees were conservative and found the language and the things I portrayed crass and confronting. Not long after that, I let my friend/author, Vikki Wakefield, read it. There were years between Vikki reading the initial version and the final one, however. Don’t ask me how many drafts there were during that period – I lost count!

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?

No. Somewhat stupidly. Maybe I would’ve had earlier success had I done this. I was arrogant. Delusional. Excitable. I always blow early.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

I lost count. I shipped it round to everyone, polishing between each submission. In hindsight, I was an overzealous idiot. I sent it out before it was ready. (See above – I always blow early!)

How many drafts until it was published?

If you mean drafts with the publisher, I’d say once it was accepted, there wasn’t much to do structurally. It was more ‘on the line work’, plus inserting/reviewing a handful of scenes. There were probably six or seven rounds of shipping it back and forth to the publisher.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

Absolutely. The current version is told from four POVs. Initially, there were eight. Eight!! What the hell was I thinking? That, and during the editorial process approximately 10,000 words were cut.

Are there any parts you would change even now?

I doubt any author is ever completely satisfied with the final product. We’re forever nitpicking. However, there comes a time when you need to step back from your painting and put down the brush. I imagine that in years to come I’ll revisit this work and think I could have done this, done that. (I’ve done that with other stories!) But that’s the benefit of hindsight, and when you’re in the thick of it, it’s impossible to have such clarity.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

Character and dialogue.

What part do you find the hardest?

Setting description. I suck at it. It’s like pulling teeth. But maybe that’s indicative of how I read; if there’s a paragraph devoted to how the sun/sky appeared, I’ll skim it and skip to the action. I’m impatient like that. The prose has to be utterly captivating to keep my attention.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

I’ve been publishing for ten years now. During that time I’ve learnt that a ‘barrier’ is simply a problem that requires solving. You may have written yourself into a corner and need to unpick a whole scene and rewrite it before you can proceed. You may be unable to see the way forward in the direct instance, but you can see the bigger picture. It boils down to finding the answers. Sometimes it takes months for the penny to drop. Afterwards, you find yourself thinking, Why was that so hard?

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?

Usually multiple projects. If one isn’t working, I revert to the other. And if that isn’t working, I pick up my guitar and write music.

Do you think you are born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?

I think storytelling is a skill largely learned in early childhood and dependent on a need for that skill. As a kid, out of necessity, (for reasons I won’t bore you with), I became good at stretching the truth or telling versions of it. Also, I was surrounded by family members, particularly my Nanna, who knew how to tell a good yarn. Growing up in a small country town, I was drawn to books and stories as a form of escapism and proof of a big, wide world outside the narrow confines of my existence. It wasn’t until I discovered the work of Judy Blume in my early teens that I realised the power of story and that it can be used to changed hearts and minds. That’s when I really fell in love. Story could be used for advocacy! I’m still not convinced I know how to write, but I know I have an ability to thread together a good tale.

How many future novels do you have planned?

As many as I can produce before I’m stalking (make that shuffling) the halls of a nursing home.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles or blogs?

Nope. Lazy, aren’t I? As part of my last role at the Uni, I wrote the research stories of academics, translating complicated projects into ‘plain speak’ and delivering it in an entertaining journalistic way.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

Where do I start? Being surrounded by creative types, many of whom I consider the real deal (rather than myself who is just a hack.) Forming friendships with those writers/artists. Meeting Jimmy Barnes (*I wrote a junior fiction book, Barnesy, and he signed it for me – squeal!!!) Receiving autographed books from Judy Blume (because I wrote to her and told her it was she who inspired me to become an author.) Getting to talk to school students about writing. Working in my trackpants. That moment when the box of books finally arrives, you cradle them for five minutes, staring with wonder at what you created, and then someone asks you, Mum, what’s for dinner?  Giving voice to people not blessed with the skill of storytelling, like my friend, Jarko, whom I wrote about in Paper Planes. (Jarko is a Bosnian refugee.)

Give me one writing tip that works for you?

Write about what fires you up. Underpin your work by exploring something you want to say or an idea you want to convey. If you’re passionate and you care, the words should flow.

And one that doesn’t.

Some folk enjoy writer’s prompts. I can’t think of anything worse. I loathe being put on the spot and being told to create something at will. I dodge any writer’s course that lends itself to this task. Or excuse myself to go to the bathroom.

Can you give us a clue or a secret about the next book?

I have two in the works: one contracted, the other a WIP. The contracted one is an early YA novel with a personal bent, exploring my teenage years battling chronic illness. (Which extended into adulthood.) The WIP is my first crack at comedy, and about a bunch of misfits thrust together on a road trip across rural SA.

Such great insight into your books and your writing life, and congratulations on your many successes so far. Thanks so much for joining YAtopia today, Allayne, and we wish you all the luck with your books, old and new!

If you would like to find out more about Allayne’s work or to keep up to date with her new releases or get yourself a copy of her books, these links should do the job.

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