Bird Face Wendy

Things relevant to reading, writing, publishing or marketing teen fiction.

Release Day! First Scene Preview: 6 Dates to Disaster

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My publisher featured 6 Dates to Disaster today on the Write Integrity Press blog with the first scene for your convenience. I hope you enjoy reading it!

This is the third book of the Bird Face series, and Jennifer is back in Wendy’s life, although not shown in the first scene. The story addresses honesty and how dishonesty can damage a teen’s relationships and future.

Be sure to check out all three of the books so far in the series on my Amazon author page! (The original Bird Face book, which is out-of-print, is still listed there, too. That story became 8 Notes to a Nobody.)

Thank you for reading.

Cynthia

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Give Fiction Readers What They Want: Someone to Care About

 

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Credit: Vlad Kryhin, courtesy of Snapwire

I read a lot of novels, usually at least one per week. And I get asked by a lot of authors to read their new releases.

I feel honored and privileged to be asked, so I read as many as I possibly can while not neglecting the titles I select for myself. But I have become very picky.

Besides being an author, I am a reader desiring quality entertainment just like the rest.

While attending to a good plot, or a good personal problem to solve in a character-driven novel, a few authors ignore this duty: to give the readers the emotional connection they want. And only those important to the story, if you please.

From my experience as a reader, that has everything to do with point of view.

I need a single POV (point of view) character, or at most, two POV characters. I enjoy getting into one or two main characters’ heads and viewing or feeling everything as though I’m in their skin. That’s deep POV, and I crave it, particularly in contemporary fiction. I find it jarring to jump around among several characters’ POVs, whether it’s for each scene or each chapter. Just when I get emotionally attached to a character—BAM!—the door slams shut and I have to get used to someone else. I only have the time and emotional energy to connect with and care deeply about one or two characters, not three, four, five, or six. And yes, sometimes authors use that many POVs.

The justification by the author for multiple POVs is typically that he or she wants the reader to know what all those characters are thinking. But why? Is every thought in their heads important to the advancement of the plot? Most often, I find that they are not.

And there’s the problem—the author is writing what the author wants. Not what the reader may want. The reader may not care what each and every character who appears more than once in a story is thinking. And may not have time to care.

In YA (young adult) fiction, where the focus of the story and the POV character(s) should be the young people, why would an author want to place the reader inside a parent’s or other adult’s head? And yet I see that sometimes, when it adds nothing to the story.

I appreciate the skill of an author who can tell me everything I need to know about the story through the eyes of one character. Maybe two, as in a romance or possibly a crime thriller.

Like me, readers want to feel a strong emotional connection that will carry them throughout a story. They want to care what happens to the main character(s) in the end, even if they want the bad guy to get his just desserts. My feeling is, that level of caring does not apply to every POV character in some otherwise good stories.

So please, have mercy on my tired reader’s brain and my emotional health. Place me inside the heads of only the characters that truly need to tell me their story.

Cynthia T. Toney

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How Many Characters Are Too Many?

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Image courtesy of Morguefile free photos

I recently picked up a novel with a roster of characters listed in front. It seemed like a lot of characters even for a thriller, so I did some math.

Based on the number of pages, a new character would be introduced on average every 7.4 pages. That seemed like a lot of characters to keep track of.

So I discarded the book and moved on to another novel. Did I do the right thing?

Possibly. I began to wonder if all the characters named by the author played an important role in the story. What if some of them were mentioned only once and didn’t need a name? I suspected such when reading their descriptions. Or maybe they were necessary for only one chapter, to reveal something important about another character.

I can think of characters like that in my books. For one, the policeman who came to the classroom when Tookie collapsed. My first publisher had me give him a name; my second publisher probably would’ve preferred I delete the name. Now I wish I had.

I don’t believe I want to provide a character roster for any of my novels, and I suspect the thriller author may have done his story a disservice by having one. When reading a good story that is well-written, I haven’t found the need for knowing characters’ names in advance, unless they are foreign-language names I might easily confuse. And that has happened.

Does the proportion of characters to novel length matter to you? Do you prefer that an author list the character names and roles in the front of the book or not?

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Introducing Mattie, Teen Reader

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Mattie at home with her dog, Bessie

If you’ve read 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status, you’ll recognize the name “Mattie” as one of the characters. This is where I got the name!

Meet Mattie, a young lady around 15 years old, who was the first reader to contact me back when the original Bird Face was published. She wrote the sweetest letter and raised my spirits as an author when I needed it most. So naturally I wanted to name a character after her. 🙂

Although the real Mattie is not all that similar to my fictional character Mattie, she is amazing and worth writing about! She kindly agreed to allow me to interview her.

Cynthia: Welcome to the blog, Mattie. Tell us a little about yourself—what combination of personality, interests, and abilities makes Mattie who Mattie is?

Mattie: I’m a creative, quirky girl, who loves to read, write, and paint. I also spend a lot of time performing. I enjoy acting because I get to pretend to be someone else. It reminds me of when I was little, and I would run around screaming, “I’m a FAIRY!”

Cynthia: You’re very talented! I can understand how you would relate to the characters in my books. You have a combination of their talents.

Which kinds of books do you like to read, and would you like to write a book similar to any of those someday?

Mattie: I like to read books that have a little mystery and romance. Books about actors are also very interesting to me, since they help me improve my craft. If I ever write a book in the future, it will probably be about life experiences I’ve had and how God has helped me get through them.

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Cynthia: Terrific. The good thing for writers is that we can turn our experiences–good or bad–into a book.  And we can honor our friends by naming characters after them.

Do you have a lot of friends you hang out with or one or two close ones?

Mattie: I have a few close friends.

Cynthia: What makes a good friend for you?

Mattie: A person who loves to laugh always makes a great friend for me! It is so fun to joke around with my close friends. Especially when we get it on video, and we can laugh about it again later.

Cynthia: I wish my friends and I had been able to record ourselves!

What is the best thing about friendship with a boy? What is the worst?

Mattie: Hanging out with a guy is fun because we can play a sport or a video game which I wouldn’t normally do with my girly friends. However, the worst thing about having guy friends is that they are harder to relate to.

Cynthia: Yeah, having at least one guy friend is great for getting a male perspective on a situation, seeing the world through his eyes, but for some things you need your gal pals.

Because you have both male and female friends, I must ask you: which character in the series do you like the most?

Mattie: My favorite character is Sam. He would be a great friend to have because he knows just what to say or do when someone is upset. He is very caring.

Cynthia: Aww. Sam is one of my favorites too, even though he and Wendy have a couple of arguments, or at least misunderstandings.

Have you ever had a bad argument with the person who was your best friend, and what was it about?

Mattie: One time, I was aggravated with my best friend, and I made fun of her most hated flaw. She was super offended, and she wouldn’t talk to me for the whole day. Fortunately, she forgave me for saying something so inconsiderate, and we are still besties!

Cynthia: Wow, you two are good friends. I always feel bad if I make a comment to someone I like and she gets that hurt look on her face. Sometimes I’m kinda like Wendy was in the first book, lacking in social skills.

In your opinion, what is your best quality or social skill? Which quality or skill would you like to develop?

Mattie: My best quality is that I’m not afraid to be myself. I am comfortable in my own skin. I would like to develop the skill of small talk. When I am first meeting someone, it can be hard for me to make conversation since I hardly know them.

Cynthia: It’s great that you’re comfortable being yourself. Some teens don’t feel that way.

If you worry, what do you worry about the most? What kind of action do you take to solve the problem or get your mind off worrying about it?

Mattie: I usually worry about silly things like what I’m going to wear to an event or how I’m going to decorate my room. I will read, do some homework, or watch T.V. to clear my head.

Cynthia: Are you public, private, religious or home-school educated? What is the worst thing about school? What is the best thing?

Mattie: I go to a public school. About 50% of the stuff I learn in school will probably go to waste. I doubt I’ll remember the elements of the Periodic Table by the time I’m 30. I still like school because I get to see my friends all the time, and I eat yummy pizza for lunch everyday!

Cynthia: Thanks for visiting, Mattie. I hope this semester of the school year goes as well as the first!

If you enjoyed meeting Mattie as much as I did and would like to see her in action, she’d love for you to follow her Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC94_Sy-pS_Rct9ZNEMyOM4Q

 

 

 

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Seeking My Niche

This post was first published on The Scriblerians blog, October 6, 2015.

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Image courtesy of Morguefile free photos

I have one of those in my house—a niche. It’s carved out of the wall at the end of a short hallway. Not much fits there, but I placed a tall pottery vase that is flattened from front to back so it nestles in the space just right.

And boy, is it showcased.

Isn’t that what we authors are supposed to do? Find a niche for our work? An audience where it’s showcased rather than one of many similar, cluttered objects where none stand out.

I suppose those are extreme examples, but books can’t yell for attention like humans can. How do I find the audience(s) where my novels might catch fire, so to speak?

I’m thinking out loud now. Thanks for sticking with me.

My YA novels in the Bird Face series use humor and hope to address serious issues facing teens today. Each novel addresses at least a few. It’s the way I like to write stories, with my protagonist facing multiple issues and crises that are intertwined.

So, how do I find a niche for those books?

Right now, I’m looking for teens with particular challenges or areas in teens’ lives where certain types of stories or characters are lacking. Stories featuring a teen that is hearing-impaired are hard to find, for example. So are those with Catholic teen characters.

I wrote my first book because I care about kids who are shy or bullied. It’s fiction that contains elements of Christian faith, and the half-Cajun Wendy naturally became Catholic because all the Cajuns I knew were Catholic.

I wrote my deaf teen character Sam in my second book because I care about hearing-impaired teens. A good friend in my twenties taught at a school for the deaf, and she shared her experiences.  I grew up not understanding much about the hearing-impaired children I met, but I later worked around hearing-impaired adults, who referred to themselves as deaf and who became my friends.

Like an ethnic group, both hearing-impaired and Catholic teens like to see characters similar to themselves occasionally depicted in the fiction they read.

I’ve decided to try target-marketing to both Catholic teens and hearing-impaired teens (as I continue to market to all teens, Christian and non-Christian). I know, I’ve selected two niches, but I’m still figuring this out.

Anyway, that’s my plan for today.

Are you an author struggling to find your niche? As a reader, are you attracted to specific religious aspects of story or social issues in story lines?

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Decorating the Real and Fictional Worlds

Maybe it’s because I spent a number of years working as a decorator, but description of settings in a novel is important to me. I like to read enough detail about the location for any scene to get a clear mental image.

I would rather see too much description and skim over some details than receive too little information. When I can’t picture the setting from the author’s description or from my personal experience (as in contemporary realism), I feel like a blindfolded captive.

Where am I???

Image courtesy of Morguefile free photos

If a reader is more into action than ambiance, he may not appreciate the way I use home furnishing descriptions in my scenes. That’s okay. But I use them to help the reader understand not only the physical setting but also the scene’s tone and the characters’ personalities or emotional state. My decorating experience taught me to understand a client’s needs, desires, and fears when it came to creating an interior environment for him or her. That understanding is reflected in my writing, I hope.

If a character sits in a chair, he interacts with it. How does it look and feel to him? Does the color remind him of something pleasant or unpleasant? A writer can go overboard, but some outward detail can offer the reader inward details about the character.

Whether the fictional environment is a home, a public building, or the wild outdoors, the setting description is an opportunity for the writer to reveal more.

So why not decorate the space and make the most of it.

Do you enjoy reading many setting details or can you do without them? Does it make a difference whether the setting is historical, contemporary, and/or fantasy or science fiction?

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