10 Ways to Build Romance in Your YA Novel

If you’re writing a YA novel, odds are there’s going to be some sort of romance. And it’s not enough to simply have your characters look at one another and instantly know they’re in love. So how can you make sure the romance in the story builds and feels believable? Follow these tips on how to make characters fall in love.

  • Give them something in common

Characters who have something in common will have an immediate bond. Are they both adopted? Did they both grow up in the same small town? Did they lose a parent at a young age? Are they wearing the same band’s T-shirt? All these are little hints that they might get along because they have something that ties them together- something to talk about with one another. For example, in the movie A Cinderella Story, the main characters connect over wanting to escape their overbearing parents/stepparents and go to the same college.

  • Start with small bodily gestures

A touch on the arm, focusing on how he flips back his hair all the time, a small glance as one walks away- especially after they’ve just had a talk about something they have in common. These can go a long way to conveying what a character may be starting to feel.

  • Characters start to change

Maybe where a character would’ve snapped before, they treat the other more gently. Or, perhaps, one gives something up that they would’ve kept for themselves earlier on –food, a blanket, the more comfortable bed. Think of Mr. Darcy going out of his way to help save the reputation on Elizabeth Bennet’s sister in Pride and Prejudice.

  • Nicknames/Inside Jokes

Is your hero still making jokes about the time the heroine fell off her horse? It means he’s thinking about her. Teasing someone can be a way to show you care without having to admit it. Plus, laughing at the same jokes counts as having something in common. Additionally, nicknames used in jest at first can be endearing later on. A new book that I loved but won’t name so it doesn’t ruin anything for anyone does this well with a character named Scarlett who gets called Crimson.

  • Jealousy

Does your character jump to conclusions when they see their crush with someone else? Jealousy can be an easy way to show they care without them having to say it. Think of Hermione not wanting to be around Ron and Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter series.

  • Atmosphere

If you’re writing a high-paced thriller, recognize that it’s hard to fall in love when you’re constantly running for your lives. Make sure you take breaks from the action for characters to bond. The right setting can enhance this- talking at sunset, strolling through the woods, hiding out on a rooftop with a great view, etc. might make for a romantic setting.

  • Shared experience

As I mentioned with high-paced thrillers, it can be hard to find time for love, but having that shared emotional experience can also drum up some passion. Surviving something together can cause people to cling to each other, and going back to my first point, it will give them something in common.

  • Think about the 5 Love Languages

Figure out if your character needs gifts or words of emotional support. Make sure their beloved can respond in turn.

  • Don’t forget about banter and passion

Your characters don’t have to get along at first. That fast-paced, biting banter they use can quickly turn into passion under the right circumstances, like surviving something together and then realizing they’re more alike than they think because….say it with me now…they have something in common. If you’re looking for a good example of this, checkout the book Frostblood.

  • Physical attraction (teamed with something they admire)

It sounds shallow, but physical attraction is something that relationships do need. It’s okay to have a fluttering heartbeat when you look at someone the first time…or the hundredth time. But make sure there’s more to the relationship than just looks; that’s why I put this last on the list. More than this, they’ll need something to admire in the other person because when you see something you like in someone, then you’re more likely to find them attractive. They may not discover what they admire until later in the story, but when they do, that’s when the physical attraction becomes more about what’s inside than outside.

 

Now you’re ready to go out there and start building a relationship. But before you do, stop over in the comments and let me know who your favorite literary couple is! I’ll start. Mine’s Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

How Writing is Like Planning a Trip

Writing a novel can feel like a journey, and in many ways, it is. It takes a good deal of planning, the right itinerary, and getting over a few bumps in the road. In fact, you might just need a vacation from your vacation by the time you’re done with it all!

Here’s a different way to approach writing a novel- think of it like planning a trip:

  • Figure out where you want to go

Whether you’re a plotter or a panster, it’s still important to know your destination, to know where you want your story to end up or be like. Know if it’ll be fantasy or contemporary, MG or YA. Having this general direction will set you up from the start.

  • Who’s going with you?

Knowing who’s going with you, aka who your characters are, is just as important as where you’re going. Can these characters exist in the setting you’re thinking of? Do you have enough of them? Who’s the villain, the one no one will get along with- the one that always claims the front seat on the road trip or insist on taking the room with the better view?

  • Figure out the sites to see

Just as with a trip where you’ll want to do some research ahead of time to know what you’ll want to see, it’s the same with a plot. Make sure there’s enough going on so you know it’s worth making the trip. You don’t want your readers to get bored half way through.

  • Plan for what could go wrong

Just as you need to know whether or not you’ll need to pack malaria pills or bring seasickness medication, it’s best to know what your characters might encounter to bring conflict to the story. However, unlike with real travel where you try to avoid those complications, in your writing, you’re going to want your characters to walk right into them.

  • Be open to new experiences/people

While it’s great to know some major landmarks along your plot, it’s also amazing to be open to new opportunities as they arise in your manuscript. Just as that unplanned side trip down a small winding path might turn out to be the highlight of your vacation, so too might be the unexpected idea that pops into your head part way through your draft.

  • Pack and head out

Once you’ve done your research, pack everything you need in your suitcase and head out and start writing. Don’t let fear hold you back. Go out there and get as much as you can from this journey, I mean draft. It’s okay if you’re an overpacker like me. You can always take something out later. And who knows, you might just need that extra parka when you get caught in a freak rainstorm at Dracula’s castle- trust me, I know from experience.

  • Unpack

Once you return home, unpack everything. Go through bit by bit and see what stinks and needs to go straight to the laundry room and what still looks really great. Also, find out what you didn’t need so you’ll know better next time, too.

  • Share those photos on social media

Once you get back, it’s time to share your experience, or in this case, send your novel off to some great critique partners!

 

After you’ve got that first trip under your belt, then it’s time to start planning your next one. And who knows, maybe all those places you went in the first one sparked the idea for what’s next.

So get out there and starting planning and writing!

6 Common Struggles Writers Face and How to Deal With Them

Writers face issues great and small that have an impact on how well and how often they write. Some are more serious than others, but they all deserve attention in order to make sure you’re the best writer you can be.

1.) Not Having Time to Write

Many writers complain about not having time to write, and this is a major setback. Children, spouses, work always seem to come first.

Solution: If this is the case, then you need to treat writing like an obligation. Mark specific time on your calendar. Get up an hour earlier. Write on your lunch break. Hire a babysitter or join a mom’s group so you have someone who can watch your children every once in a while. It might even take finding a writing buddy that you meet up with once a week so that you’re held accountable. Or, instead of taking bits of time here and there, try blocking off one weekend where you can lock yourself in and write.

 

2.) Never Enough Syndrome

So many writers, published and unpublished, seem to suffer from what is commonly deemed “Never Enough Syndrome.” This can encompass everything from feeling like you’ll never be good enough to wondering if you’ll ever have a good idea again to feeling like you can never share your work with others because you fear what they’ll think.

Solution: First, recognize that bestselling authors feel this way, too. You’re not alone. It’s scary to put yourself out there, so start small. Find someone you trust with your writing- a friend, mentor, family member- anyone you can show it to at the start. Slowly start showing it to more and more people. Or, open a book by an author you love. Pick out one single sentence. Really look at the words. You could’ve written that sentence. It’s just several words strung together. You can do that. Also, surround yourself with other writers who can help pick you up when you’re having doubts, or attend workshops and conferences so you can constantly feel like you’re improving your skills.

 

3.) Anxiety

Along with Never Enough Syndrome, many writers suffer from anxiety and depression. It can be hard to write when symptoms set in. Just getting out of bed can be a victory.

Solution: Do whatever self-care you need. Talk to your doctor, a school counselor, or a psychiatrist. Whatever you do, don’t add to the weight on your chest by worrying about not hitting your current writing goals. Remember that your mental health is more important and needs to be addressed first. And once it has been, you’ll be in a better place to write.

 

4.) Rejection

If you are a writer, at some point in your career, you will have to deal with rejection. It usually comes from agents and editors turning down your book.

Solution: Find what makes you happy. A chocolate bar? A warm bath? A nice long run? Find that thing that will take the edge off your disappointment. Know that it’s not personal. There are so many reasons agents and editors reject a book- everything from already having a client who writes something similar to someone having a bad day and not being in the right frame of mind to read your work. Generally, you will never know why you were rejected, so don’t dwell on it. Instead, always make sure you’re writing something new so you’ve got something else to query or sub if this manuscript isn’t the one that lands you your agent/editor. (More often than you’d suspect, a writer’s first manuscript isn’t the one that lands them their agent/editor anyway.)

 

5.) Loneliness

Writers spend all day thinking about and talking to characters who are only real in their heads. It’s a very lonely profession.

Solution: Join a writer’s group. Write at a coffee shop. Call up your critique partners to chat. Go to a writing conference. Join Twitter and discover all the writers on there. All of these can help you realize you aren’t alone out there in the writing world.

 

6.) Writer’s Block

The plague of writers everywhere, writer’s block seems to rear it’s ugly head at the most inopportune times. Maybe you’re in the middle of a chapter. Or you’ve finished one book and don’t know what to start next. Either way, writer’s block stinks.

Solution: Read. Read a lot. It might just get those creative juices flowing. Or, try brainstorming with a friend or critique partner. Go for a walk around the block to clear your head, or come back tomorrow after you’ve slept on it. Don’t beat yourself up. The more stressed you are, the less likely you’ll be to come up with a good plot point. Maybe a yoga or a meditation class could help if you find yourself falling into that trap.

 

Whatever struggles you face as a writer, know you’re not alone. There’s always hope and help out there. Have other issues you’re struggling with or solutions to the problems above? Post them in the comments!

 

 

Twitter Hashtags Every Writer Should Know

Twitter is a writer’s hub. It’s a place where you can interact with agents on a social level, find critique partners, and enter contests that can give you a leg up in your agent search. It’s also a great way to improve your platform so potential publishers will see you have a built-in audience.

But how can you be sure you’re getting the most out of Twitter? Start by being active using writing related hashtags. These will help you find and connect with others in the writing community.

Here are some popular ones to follow:

  • #amwriting
  • #amreading
  • #amrevising
  • #Writerstip
  • #books
  • #writerslife
  • #writingtip
  • #pubtip

 

There are also some writing exercises where you share a line or two based on a posted theme on certain days of the week:

  • #MuseMon (Monday)
  • #2bittues (Tuesday)
  • #1linewed (Wednesday)
  • #Thurds  (Thursday)
  • #FictFri (Friday)
  • #SlapDashSat (Saturday – no theme)

The theme for many of the above hashtags changes weekly, so be on the lookout for what the upcoming one is. There are additional ones that drill down into things like Science Fiction (#SciFiFri), so be on the lookout for those if that’s what you write.

Finally, one other valuable hashtag that deserves it’s own section is the #MSWL hashtag. It stands for Manuscript Wish List, and agents and editors use it to tweet about what specific projects or ideas they’d like to see land on their desk. This is a great way to find an agent who might be interested in seeing that super unique book you just wrote.

Twitter is also an excellent way to enter contests, so be on the lookout for events, like #PitMad, where you can tweet about your book and get it front of agents scrolling through the feed.

So get out there and start interacting and tweeting! Have any other favorite writing related hashtags? Share them in the comments.

 

 

 

What to Look for in a Critique Partner

My last post focused on where to find critique partners, and this week’s post is all about making sure you’ve got the right ones.

Here are some things you should look for in a critique partner to have the best chance at being compatible.

  • Can you be candid with one another

The point of having a critique partner is so that they can help you make your work better through constructive criticism. If your critique only tells you how good something is or how much they like it, they really aren’t helping you revise and grow as a writer. They need to be able to approach your work with a critical eye in order to help you gain deeper insights into your work and what issues might need addressing.

  • Write for the same age group

This may not seem important, writing is writing, right? Well, to a degree. However, someone who writes for the same age group is going to understand that reader and the pacing of the story. Plots and timing are going to be very different for an adult novel versus a middle grade novel.

  • Write the same genre

Like #1 above, writing the same genre can be helpful because someone who writes science fiction or fantasy might understand world building and what needs to go into it better than someone writing a contemporary novel. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. As long as a critique partner gets your work, that’s what’s more important.

  • Make sure they have time for you

People are busy these days. If they’re not doing their own writing, they’re off doing any number of other tasks. And there’s nothing more frustrating than sending out your work and never getting it back. On the flip side, make sure you have time to help them with their writing in return.

  • Try trading sample chapters to make sure you like their writing

Before you officially agree to partner, try trading sample chapters. Maybe you’ll hate their writing. Maybe you’ll love it, but it’s better to know before you commit yourself to a whole book.

  • Different perspectives

It can be good to get different perspectives. Is your main character a female? Have a male critique partner read it and see what he catches. Or, if you’re a female writing a male character, see what a male critique partner points out as unnatural. (Side note: for certain works you may also want sensitivity readers if you’re writing outside your own experience.)

Other aspects that might signal you’ll be good partners include having the same sense of humor, liking the same authors/books, and being able to articulate feedback in a way that makes sense to each other. Keep these in mind when you meet potential critique partners, and you’ll be off to a good start.

What do you look for in a critique partner? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

8 Places to Find Critique Partners

If you saw my post last week, you read about the 5 critique partners every writer needs. But now, I’m going to clue you in on how to find those critique partners.

Finding critique partners can be hard. Everyone is busy, so you need to find people who can make the time to help you (but you also need to be prepared to help them in return- that’s where the “partners” part of it comes in.) So where can you look to find people willing to read your work?

1.) Writing Conferences

Almost all my critique partners have come from people I’ve met at writing conferences. It’s an easy place to ask what someone writes to see if you might have similar styles. If you can’t afford to attend one in person, look into online conferences like WriteOnCon, where the critique forums are open free for all to use.

2.) Twitter Pitch Contests

Follow the feeds on major pitching days like #Pitchmas or #PitMad. You’ll find fellow authors whose work is in the same genre as you and who may be interested in helping.

3.) Family

I know, there’s STILL that whole contingent of people out there who say you shouldn’t have family read your work, but let’s say your sister is an English major, then maybe it’s not such a bad idea.

4.) Local Writing Centers

Many larger towns have writing centers. See if they know of anyone looking for a critique partner. Better yet, take one of their classes and see if you click with anyone there.

5.) Librarians

Unless you have a really, really good relationship with your local librarian, I’m not suggesting you ask them to read your book. However, they may know of other local writing groups or authors who may be able to help.

6.) MFA Programs/Degree Programs

Did you get an MFA in Creative Writing or take undergraduate classes in writing? Perhaps some of your former classmates would be willing to help.

7.) Book launches

If you find an author whose work you love, go to their local book launch or signing if they have one. Talk to others there. You just might meet a fellow writer.

8.)Book Stores

Writers spend a lot of time in bookstores. Next time you’re there browsing your favorite aisle, why not strike up a conversation with the person down the row. Even if they’re not a writer, maybe they’ll be a new friend.

 

With many of these options, don’t blurt out first thing that you want that person to be your critique partner. Get to know the person first if you can, then ask. This especially applies to platforms like Twitter. Don’t message people out of the blue asking them to read your work if you’ve never even had a Twitter conversation before. Otherwise, good luck!

Let me know in the comments where you met your critique partners! And don’t miss next week’s post about what to look for in a critique partner.

The 5 Critique Partners Every Writer Needs

Have you ever finished a draft and thought, “Wow! That’s perfect!” If you have, congratulations. Please share your secret with the rest of us.

While I’ve certainly been excited about what I’ve written, I always recognize that it’s going to need to go through revisions. And the first revision always comes from my critique partners, also called beta readers by some. These are people I trust to look at my work with a critical eye and tell me where the story isn’t flowing or where something doesn’t make sense.

I highly encourage you to have more than one reader. I have a handful of readers, and I bring them in at different points in the process. My first reader is always my sister. (I know, I know, there’s a whole group out there who screams that you shouldn’t have family members read your work.) But my sister is one of my best readers and sharing it with her is an easy transition to sharing it with the world. Plus, she catches all my stupid spelling mistakes. But you’ll need a variety of readers with different skill sets in order to make your novel truly shine:

1.) Find the critique partner(s) you trust explicitly

Sure, you’re not going to agree with 100% of their comments, but this is the person you trust to be honest about your work. Use them first as that buffer between those tricky emotions of wanting to share your work and not wanting to share your work. This person should be encouraging but able to tell it to you straight.

2.) Find the critique partner who **gets your work**

After I edit based on my sister’s feedback, I have a writer friend I send to. Since she’s a writer, I can trust her to know how plots should flow and how characters should be developed. This is usually when I have to do a major revision because things need to be clarified or expanded upon. (Side note: all critique partners should **get your work,** and you may want to alternate who you send to first based on their workload, the type of story you’ve written, etc.)

3.) Find your “reserve” critique partners

Usually after my revisions from my second reader, I send my book off to my agent. But, why, you ask would I do that when I have so many other **AMAZING** critique partners available who also get my work? Here’s why, I like to use them strategically. Once my agent sends me her edits and I revise, I like to send the book to a new critique partner each time. Are they still pointing out the same lingering issues I’d thought I’d fixed for my agent? Have I inadvertently deleted a really important scene or bit of backstory while I was revising? These new readers will catch things like that.

4.) If you’re querying agents, save a critique partner for that step, too

I know you want everyone in the world to read your work before you send it off to agents, but save one or two critique partner’s for this step. Having someone who hasn’t read your book read your query letter can really help. They can point out what doesn’t make sense or where you’ve mentioned a character but not how they’re integral to the plot. They will come to your query letter with the same knowledge an agent would, so listen to them if something isn’t making sense. This can also apply to writing your synopsis, too.

5.) The “Good Grammar” critique partner

Sometimes it can help to have one critique partner who’s really good at grammar read through before you send off to agents/editors/etc. My mom is really good at this, and while most of my critique partners will point out errors, it doesn’t hurt to have someone you know you can count on to do a final read through. Alternatively, you could also hire an editor, but as long as you’re manuscript isn’t riddled with errors, one or two misplaced commas shouldn’t be a deal breaker for agents (just make sure those errors aren’t on your sample/opening pages because that could be a deal breaker!)

 

Some of these critique partners may be one and the same. The critique partner who gets your work may also be your Good Grammar critique partner. Or maybe you don’t need that buffer of a critique partner who can ease your book’s transition out to the world. It just comes down to knowing what you need and that you’ve got all your bases covered.

If you’re looking for critique partners, feel free to comment on this post with what you write (include if it’s Adult, YA, MG, etc) to see if you can find someone else who might be interested in partnering with you and trading work! Or, check out my blog next week when I list ways to find critique partners!

Word Count vs. Timed Writing: Which is Right For You?

If you ask almost any writer what they wish they had more of (besides money, of course!), the answer is usually more time to write. In this day and age, everything from kids to social media can be barriers to that illusive time every writer seeks to sink back into the world of their story.

Once you’ve managed to carve out that time, you’ve got to discover the best method to keep you motivated and writing so you can feel like you’re making true progress.

During my grad school career, I had a teacher who swore by the method that you should set a timer for about 42 minutes. He said if you wrote for 42 minutes, then you’d probably end up writing for far longer because you’d get engrossed in the story.

I tried that method, and it didn’t work for me. I kept watching the clock tick down in time with the blinking cursor on my blank page. The ticking clock didn’t inspire me; it froze me in place, making me worry about all the time I’d already wasted. And suddenly, I felt like I didn’t have enough time left to come up with anything productive.

Luckily, I had another friend who told me she had a word count she wanted to hit each day. And that worked for me. I set my limit rather low at just 500 words a day. Some days those 500 words were a struggle, but many days (most, in fact), I found myself far surpassing that milestone. It was just 500 words. That’s like one single-spaced Word document page. I could do that. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by it. And unlike the clock ticking down, my word count was ticking up, making me feel like I was accomplishing something.

Writing is all about balancing the time you have with a method that allows you to write and still feel like you’re moving the story forward.

Are you a timed writer or word counter? Do you use another method? Share your responses in the comments.

 

 

10 Things Writers Should Know About Writing Military Characters

Hey Ya’ll,

Before I begin to blather my 3rd grade dribble across the wonderfully pure pages of Annie’s site; I would like to thank her for her generosity in allowing me access to the airwaves. I would like to also thank all of you for caring enough about your writing to give this list a glance. I hope you find it useful, if you would like to ask more detailed questions, please contact me at robakers19@gmail.com

1.) In today’s age, no one was drafted.

The draft was abolished in the early 1970s so anyone who had been drafted has already retired. But that isn’t true of other nations or worlds (especially if you’re writing fantasy), so it is perfectly acceptable to have a character who was drafted or one who volunteered.

 

2.) Rank is based on experience and merit.

The rank structure is broken into two categories. Actually, it can be three but we should keep it simple for now. The junior ranks are the Enlisted ranks. The Officer ranks are the leadership structure of the military. Note that I am not listing the names for these ranks because it varies between the individual services. Generally speaking, the higher one progresses up the rank ladder, the less time they spend in the field and the more time they spend in an office making command decisions.

If your character is someone who needs to be in the action; make them a squad leader of 8-12 men with a mid-level Enlisted rank. If they are in command 30 men, make them platoon leader as a junior officer. If they are in command 200 men make them company commander as a mid-level Officer. If they are in command of the battalion of 1000 men or in command of an entire ship, they need to be a high-ranking officer but below the level of a General. In the modern military, Generals do not lead from the front and Privates do not make strategic decisions like authorizing the release of nuclear weapons.

 

3.) Nearly 99.9% of the Officer ranks have a college degree, but a vast majority of the Enlisted members also have a college degree.

The difference is that a college degree is a requirement to become an Officer while most Enlisted folks get their degrees after they join. There is a thing called a battlefield promotion. It isn’t a common practice in today’s military, but in World War II, it was not uncommon for exceptional Enlisted members to be promoted on the front lines to an Officer position. A common drinking toast of the junior officers of the British Navy is called the Ensign’s toast. They hold their drink up and offer a salute before they drink “To Death, War, and Famine.” At that time, the only way that they could progress up the ranks of command was for someone higher ranking to die.

 

4.) Not everyone has been shot at.

In fact, the actual number of people who have heard a bullet wiz by their head is relatively low. The vast majority of those who serve in the military have not been in combat. That doesn’t mean that their service is any less meaningful, just that they don’t have that experience even if they served in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is okay to have a character who served in Afghanistan for an entire year and never was in danger. Or you could have a character who was injured during their first encounter in combat. In Vietnam, the average life expectancy of a 1st Lieutenant in combat was nineteen seconds. If they survived that first day, then the odds were that they would survive the entire war.

plane-taking-off

Kuwait, winter 2004 with a C-130 taking off in background.

 

5.) Not everyone who has served will have PTSD, but PTSD is very real and it takes on many different forms.

The forms of PTSD are different and vary widely depending on the individual. Even two people who served side by side for the entire war can have different reactions to their shared experiences. I would not say that I have PTSD, but like clockwork, I become irritable with a vague sense of nerves every March. And it magically goes away in May. Usually my wife notices it first and will remind me of the date, and from that point on, I am able to control the feelings. But they are there, and they are very real. I know people who saw real combat and have no issues and others who have deeper issues. PTSD is a mental health issue, and if you choose to give your character this issue, it is okay if the cause is not something tragic. Ask any mother if they jump when they hear a baby cry. Ask them if they feel a need to aid that child. Ask them if they feel an internal sense of dread when they hear that cry. That is a common form of PTSD.

military-temp

Outside the tent in Qatar, June 2003. The temperature was almost 140 degrees.

 

6.) A military member is a regular person.

They can have any belief system that you chose to give them. They can be an atheist or extremely religious. They can be conservative or liberal. They can be heterosexual or homosexual. They can be tall or short. Fat or slim. For the most part, they will be in a descent physical condition as most handicaps or severe childhood diseases will eliminate them from service. But I know military members who recovered from cancer or had a traumatic battlefield injury. The thing to know is that they had to demonstrate an ability to perform all the tasks required for their job before they can return to service. Strokes, heart attacks, and diabetes are generally disqualifying events.

Your character can have any believe system that you choose. But the farther from the norm that you make them, then the more they will have to deal with their fellow teammates. I am sure there is an individual who is an ultra-liberal, homosexual, Christian, Navy SEAL. But that person would not only be rare, but they would get a lot of grief from their teammates. They would constantly be mocked, teased, and mentally abused. However, the only thing that his teammates would really care about is if the SEAL in question can do their job without hesitation. Because as much as you think it matters, all they really care about is if they can be trusted in the middle of a fight.

 

7.) Asking a young soldier to charge a hill requires a mentally that doesn’t exist in the civilian world.

The young soldiers have to be accepting of the fact that their life is meaningless when compared with the fate of the entire Army. They are taught in boot camp about the heroics of those who died in the past. These heroes have buildings named after them. They have camps named after them and entire bases named after them. They live on in history because they made the ultimate sacrifice. The men and women in boot camp are taught that to have eternal honor they must make eternal actions. The beginning of that process is to strip away the individual and promote the collective. That is why everyone in the military wears the same type of clothing, marches the same, salutes the same, and has all the other outward appearances of similarity.

 

8.) Every one in the military is different from their peers in some way.

There is a pack mentality among with the military, and that pack will attack any perceived weakness. In the civilian world, we would call it bullying. In the military, it would be called training. Everyone gets picked on because it is a rite of passage, and it is a test to see how they react to stress. If a person cannot take a cutting insult, then how will they react when their life is in danger?

 

9.) Most everyone has a nickname or a call sign.

This can take many forms, and it is not gender neutral either. I know of a lady who had a bad hair day and earned the name “Wolfie.” Sometimes, the name is given quickly based on their last name. Someone with the name of Bob Smith might be called “B.S.” or “Smithy.” Or their name might come from something they did. I have a friend called “Sleepy” because when he drinks alcohol, he tends to fall asleep.

 

10.) The men and women of the military don’t fight for big goals like freedom, democracy, or justice.

They might go to battle for something heroic and noble like one of these causes. But when the bullets start flying, they fight for only one thing: each other. That is the only reason that matters because their survival is dependent on the people in the fight. This is the only reason why one person would lay their life down for someone else. When I was in Iraq, I was in charge of a crew comprised of a wild-eyed southern boy, an African-American homosexual, a super smart atheist, a stanch Southern Baptist, and a self-proclaimed thief.

The six of us were together for 24/7 for six months straight. We slept eighteen inches apart, we showered together, we ate together, we laughed together, and we cried together. Never have I been closer to a group of people before or since. That was because we allowed each other to be individuals with respect. There was no topic that was off limits for discussion, but there was an understanding that we might not agree. But we depended on everyone else to do their job as professionals. We were a machine that accomplished every mission, and we returned with honor. But the truth is that we did everything to the best of our ability because we didn’t want to let down the other five men.

 

There you go. The top ten things that you need to know to write a convincing military character. Please, email me when you have questions.

 

Until next time, keep on rockin.

Rob

rob-bio-pic

About Robert Akers

Robert Akers holds a Bachelor Degree in Psychology from Arkansas State University and a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Memphis. He began flying airplanes in 1991 before joining the West Virginia Air National Guard in 1995. He traveled to five continents and was deployed to Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan as an Instructor Pilot. He left the military in 2008 at the rank of Major with four Air Medals, Five Aerial Achievement Medals, two Meritorious Service Medals, and two Humanitarian Medals among others. He is currently a 757 pilot with a major airline. He makes his home in West Virginia with his wife, two children, two cats, and one dog.

 

3 Tips for How to Write a Great Opening Line

It may be true that covers and jacket copy sell books, but you’re going to need a great opening line to even get to the point where someone’s going to pick up your book. Why’s that? Because you’ll need to wow both agents and editors with your opening line so they’ll keep reading.

What makes for a good opening line? It’s should have a good hook. You need something so compelling that the reader wants, no needs, to go on to the next sentence.

Here are 3 tips, with examples, so you can take your first lines to the next level.

1.) Use contrast

Compare:

Timothy took the school bus to Park Elementary, and today was like any other.

Vs.

Normally, Timothy took the school bus to Park Elementary, but today was no ordinary day because there was no bus in sight.

Don’t have your character start out with what they always do. Draw your reader in right from the start by having something new, something different going on. Plus, it can be a good way to show character by throwing them out of their comfort zone.

Famous example:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

(A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

 

2.) Leave your reader with questions

Compare:

Nina woke up and rolled over, pounding the alarm clock with her fist.

Vs.

Nina woke up and rolled over, only to discover she wasn’t in her bed anymore.

Did the first sentence really interest you? Maybe you’d read on, but there’s nothing dynamic there. There’s nothing unexpected there. The second one makes you stop and wonder where she is, how’d she get there, and what’s going to happen next.

(Note: Many agents and editors don’t always like it when a book starts with characters waking up, so keep that in mind.)

Famous example:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

(1984 by George Orwell)

 

3.) Be unexpected

Compare:

Cinderella grew up with two evil stepsisters.

Vs.

Cinderella had never worn high heels.

The first line is expected, ordinary, common knowledge. The second one takes a little more thought. It catches you a little more off guard.

Famous example:

Marley was dead, to begin with.

(A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

 

Using these tips, you can take your opening lines from boring to extraordinary and increase the chances that agents and editors will want to read your work. What are your favorite opening lines from literature? Share them in the comments.