You Are What You Read: Reading and Its Influence on Writing

by Kristina Ludwig
Sep 30
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: September 30, 2013 at 12:53 pm

I’ve been reading YA fiction, in some form, since elementary school. As I reached age 20, I began closet-reading it, because I figured I was “too old” for the stuff. However, at some point in my early 20′s, I realized it was actually okay for adults to read YA novels, and, in fact, many people were doing exactly the same thing. As a result, I’ve shamelessly devoured these juicy literary concoctions ever since.

When I was growing up, I wrote voraciously, illustrating my stories and stapling them together into “books.” The heroines were always exactly my age, perhaps a year or two older. But when I reached my twenties, I found that I no longer wrote about people “just my age.” While I grew older, my heroines stayed in the YA age group.

I always thought this phenomenon occurred simply because I loved my teen years and found the activities, interpersonal relationships, and daily dramas to be so vivid and ripe with storyline possibilities.

But I’ve realized that there’s another factor at play as well: I am what I read.

It’s a well-known fact that writers are a product of not only their training, but what kind of literature they prefer to read. In essence, we are what we read. That’s why one writer can incorporate such an eclectic mix of elements into his or her fiction. It’s also why certain authors in the paranormal genres mix some contemporary elements with others that are pure magic. We learn by reading, and the things we read show up in our writing…sometimes entirely unbeknownst to us!

I adore contemporary YA fiction, but I also frequently indulge in the classics, especially the literature of Jane Austen. Emma  is one of my favorite books, and the movie Clueless, which was based on Emma’s classic storyline, was a fave of mine growing up. That’s why I was blown away when my writing instructor, MG and YA author Nancy Butts, told me that Aubree, the heroine in my upcoming novel, reminded her of a Jane Austen character with her relentless honesty and endearing blind spots, and that I reminded her of Jane Austen in the ability to capture the dynamics of a “small, encapsulated society such as high school.” I’d never realized I incorporated these elements into my writing. Yet, because of what I read, they showed up.

I subconsciously incorporated elements of the beloved classic Emma while writing my new novel, because I am what I read.

I subconsciously incorporated elements of Jane Austen’s beloved classic, Emma, into my upcoming novel…because I am what I read!

Now that I’m working hard on my Amish YA fiction novella, I’ve been peering into a new genre, the wonderful world of Amish fiction. I just downloaded several Amish fiction works on my Kindle, and have already dove into one! If anyone has recently read some great Amish fiction, please let me know. :)

Writers out there, how are you what you read? Who are some of the most influential authors you’ve read, and how have elements of their writing shown up in yours?

 

Five Reasons to Love Novellas

by Kristina Ludwig
Sep 23
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: September 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm

As I’ve been hammering out my Amish YA fiction novella, I’ve realized how much fun novellas are to read and to write. Did you know that some of the most famous classic literary works, such as Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea and Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol were novellas?

Novellas comprise the literary genre halfway between short stories and novels. As their name implies, novellas are shorter than novels, yet longer than short stories. However, the main trait that distinguishes novellas from the other genres is their level of conflict: Novellas have more conflict than short stories, yet less conflict (and less developed conflict) than novels.

Since novellas are often intended to be read in one sitting, they’re usually written without chapters, but I’ve found that there’s really no right or wrong. I’m writing my novella with short micro-chapters, and I find that these chapters break up the plot more neatly and improve the overall flow.

There are just so many reasons to love these cute little “mini novels.” Here, I tell you five:

5 things to love about novellas

5 of the many things to love about novellas

  1. Since they’re shorter than novels, they’re a quicker, more focused read.
  2. They leave readers more satisfied than short stories because of their deeper conflict.
  3. They’re ideal for reluctant readers of any genre, especially YA, because of their length and the relative simplicity of their plots.
  4. They’re a challenging writing exercise because they encourage authors to choose words and descriptions more wisely.
  5. They’re ideal for reading — or writing — in a series, because they really are addictive.

With all these strengths, it’s no wonder that some of the best-known classics were novellas. In fact, I think novellas are ready to make a comeback, especially in YA!

Emo YA: Making Your Highs and Lows Work for You

by Kristina Ludwig
Sep 19
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: September 19, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Young Adult fiction is full of epic highs and crushing lows, much like the teen years themselves. It is highly dramatic by nature, radiating with vivid emotions.

As I’ve written my own YA fiction, I’ve realized something that other writers might find useful: The mood of the author, and the circumstances in his / her life, will influence the moods of the characters and the atmosphere of the story. Therefore, if a writer is having a particularly turbulent or extremely happy time in life, he / she should try to have the characters’ lives mirror this, as it will paint a more vibrant emotional picture.

And sometimes, a writer may not even have to try. Often, writers may incorporate their highs and lows into the characters subconsciously. This was exactly what happened when I wrote my contemporary YA novel, which will be released in a matter of months.

Just like the skyscrapers of a great city (here, San Francisco), life has its highs and lows. Make sure to use them in your writing!

Just like the skyscrapers of a great city (here, San Francisco), life has its highs and lows. Make sure to use them in your writing!

In the novel, Aubree, the fourteen year-old heroine, starts out on top of the world. But a move to a new city and a huge, super-competitive school undermines her self-confidence. At a writing conference last year, I learned that one of the most important page-turning traits of all fiction, especially YA, is to really torture the heroine. The main character has to face a seemingly never-ending series of problems to keep readers engaged.

Since I was going through a rather difficult time of transition, stress, and emotional upheaval myself, I found it easy to translate my mood into the story. Aubree certainly was tortured as she navigated a maze of family, social, boy, and identity crises.

For me, torturing the heroine was therapeutic. I was able to pour my own strong and rather dramatic emotions into the tempestuous teenage heroine, and in the end, all that powerful passion translated into art. My mom told me that sometimes artists have to suffer for their art, and I truly believe that other writers going through hard times should use writing as therapy…and create a high-tension page-turner in the process!

As my own real life sorted itself out, so did Aubree’s fictitious one. It was easy to reconcile Aubree’s problems because my own life was also reconciling. The concluding chapters of the novel are decidedly more light-hearted. Aubree will always be a dramatic character, but her mood is more stable, as befits an ending.

So the take-away is this: When the going gets tough, the tough write fiction. If you’re feeling a little emo, write a story with high emotion!

But before you go paint the town with words, I should conclude the post with one caviat. It’s great to infuse your work with passion, but at times it may get a little too emo. At times like that, I recall a conversation that I had with my dad when I was about four and we were listening to Mozart. My dad told me, “Mozart’s music is so perfect because he never takes it too far.”

Take-home message: If you’re feeling a little too rambunctious, vent another way or you’ll take it too far and cross that fragile line into the melodramatic. It’s all about moderation. And furthermore, writing may be therapeutic, but it should never be used as sole therapy. Emo can backfire. So make sure to infuse emo into your writing responsibly. ;)

Knowing Your Audience: How to Do It and Why It’s Important

by Kristina Ludwig
Jun 13
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: June 13, 2013 at 11:24 am

So you’ve self-published an eBook. Woohoo! Now comes the fun part: selling some copies.

But who will buy your eBook? Your family and friends, of course, although they will not be the primary determinants of your sales. They may help to drive your sales in the beginning, but in the long run, the primary purchasers of your eBook will be people you don’t know at all, although you may have interacted with them via social media. They’re your target audience.

But how to reach them? Well, first you have to know them. My short story on Amazon has ranked at the top of the Teen Short Stories category for four weeks and counting, in large part because I have begun to reach my target audience. To reach them, though, I had to know them.

My target audience is YA: tweens and teens between the ages of nine and seventeen, although I tend to write for the middle of this range, a precocious ten-year-old or a reluctant-reading fifteen-year-old, for example. This audience, especially the younger end, devours books, as well as movies, TV shows, magazines, and music, so they’re a very easy audience to identify with.

A very diverse and interesting audience!

A very diverse and interesting audience … but rather challenging to identify with. Thankfully, mine is slightly easier. :)

Here are five ways I got to know my audience.

  1. Twitter – I searched popular hash tags for teens, then followed some users who tweeted about these trends. I also added some followers of YA reading groups, like Epic Reads and Harper Teen. And, of course, I added some followers of other popular teen phenomena: authors like Suzanne Collins, and celebrities like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, for example. Many of the users followed me back, and voila … many of my Tweeps are now teens in my target audience!
  2. Facebook ads - Antonio and I launched three Facebook ad campaigns: the first to mothers throughout the US, Canada, and the UK who had kids in the YA age range, and the second and third to teens in select states who liked reading and Amazon. My Facebook page gained many “likes” from the target audience, and substantially less from their mothers. I realized that Facebook ad campaigns are a great way to know your audience, because you can see which users “like” your content. This gives you a better idea of who your audience is and what their interests are, which in turn allows you to write about the things that they’re passionate about.
  3.  Magazines - I went to the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago this week, and perused some teen magazines to better understand my target audience. I enjoy doing this periodically so I can stay in touch with my audience, how they talk and dress, what their biggest fears are, what their most embarrassing moments are, etc. One magazine even advertised a “Summer Reading” section, so I was able to see what books they’re reading.
  4. Popular TV Shows / Movies - This goes along with #3. I’m always on the lookout for fun YA movies and TV shows, so I can better relate to my audience. One word of caution, though: I sometimes use trendy teen slang in “current” activities (i.e. social media, conversations, and even ad campaigns), but when I’m writing my short stories and novels, I steer clear of it. I don’t want to date my stories, and keeping out the slang ensures that teens will enjoy them for years to come.
  5. Real-life Interaction - Mingling with your target audience in real life is priceless. I know some teens through work, and I’ve met many more while handing out flyers to promote my short story. Interacting with your target audience benefits your readers because they can finally put a face and voice with your name, and it benefits you because you can get to know your audience firsthand! How’s that for win-win?

So those are my tips for knowing your audience. I also found a very relevant Facebook post from my author-hero Joanna Penn that addresses this subject even more. Enjoy!

http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2013/06/13/identify-your-target-audience/

“Novel” Reflections: Lessons Learned After Completing a Manuscript

by Kristina Ludwig
Feb 7
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: February 7, 2013 at 12:16 pm

At last! I have finished the first draft of my latest YA manuscript! It’s been quite a journey, and now, of course, comes the fun part: editing. I’m sure my writing will evolve even more in the months to come, but here are some reflections on finishing my second YA manuscript. Think of it as a “lessons learned” post.

Super-Useful Writing Lessons:
1. Read up. Not only did I read Writer’s Digest and tons of contemporary YA fiction, I also read what I now refer to as the holy grail of writing: Hooked, by Les Edgerton. This is a book entirely based on opening scenes, and it’s both entertaining and informative. Editors, agents, and ultimately readers will decide whether a book is worth their time during the opening chapters. Thanks to Nancy Butts, my instructor and an incredible MG author, for turning me on to this book. It’s been an invaluable resource as I’ve crafted my second manuscript. Which brings me to my next lesson…

2. Take a class. I thought I knew everything about writing because I’ve been doing it ever since I could hold a pencil, but…surprise…I hadn’t even scratched the surface! I have taken two online courses with the Institute of Children’s Literature, and they’ve helped me to hone my writing style, draft query letters, polish up my short stories, research the writer’s market, and, ultimately, complete the first draft of my YA novel manuscript.

3. Do webinars. Writer’s Digest offers them every Thursday. If I’m not available when the webinars go “live,” I can purchase them to peruse at my convenience. I’ve “attended” webinars about query letters, pitchcraft, and how to draft a killer YA novel. These webinars feature agents and editors, so they not only provided me with a wealth of information, they also introduced me to agents in my genre…agents I may be querying later.

4. Attend conferences. The Writer’s Digest West conference I attended was pivotal; I made several key contacts in the industry, picked up writing pointers from well-known authors, and learned about self-publishing, marketing, and building a platform. Which brings me to my last lesson…

5. Social media is important. I’m not a social media guru, but I like to think of myself as fairly proficient. Twitter and Word Press have allowed me to connect with my target audience and fellow writers, and I’m constantly reading the blogs of other authors and agents. One of my favorite blogs is Mary Kole’s kidlit.com. It’s chock full of helpful hints…directly from an agent!

Rum-spring-a Break Finale

by Kristina Ludwig
Oct 25
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: October 25, 2012 at 10:33 am

My apologies for leaving you suspended in time at Jakob’s awkward entrance for two whole weeks! But finally, here it is: the conclusion of Rum-spring-a Break. I hope Ethan’s advice to Rebekah will inspire you. Enjoy!

“Th-there you are,” Jakob stutters, flushing with embarrassment. His clear blue eyes cloud over to rainy-day gray as he studies Ethan and me. “Mercy’s not feeling well, so we should leave soon. But since you’re busy I’ll just…wait outside.”

Jakob nearly tramples Furball as he hurries from the room, and I laugh as Ethan’s eager lips take mine again.

“Are you on Facebook?” Ethan asks as our lips part. I shake my head no. “Do you have email?” I shake no again. “What about a phone? You must have a phone.”

“No, Ethan,” I say. “I’m Old Order Amish. We’re very traditional.”

“Will I see you again?” Ethan asks.

“I hope so.”

Ethan grabs a pen and scribbles his phone number on the back of the pre-vet curriculum in bold, strong strokes. He hands it to me, and his kiss is full of passion and promise. “So do I,” he says, his lips still on mine.

“Keep this, Rebekah,” Ethan says, reluctantly dragging himself, and me, off the bed. “And promise me you’ll remember something.”

“Anything,” I say.

“Don’t just hold on tight to your dreams,” Ethan says. “Actualize them.”

***

Ten Months Later:

I’m on the edge of my uncomfortable plastic seat as I wait for the SAT tests to be passed out. I’m glad I took Ethan’s advice. I still haven’t been baptized Amish, since I plan to earn my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree first. My hope is that, because my career will be useful to our community, the elders will overlook my worldly pursuit of education. In the meantime, though, I’ll just focus on enjoying rumspringa and the many benefits of the outside world.

I survey the other students in the room, a diverse group that, judging from the fidgeting, brow furrowing, and chair squeaking, is as nervous as I. A handsome young man in Amish suspenders and a straw hat sits across the room. I catch his eye and we exchange shy smiles as the tests are distributed. I’m dressed English today, but perhaps he recognizes a kindred spirit.

I close my eyes and visualize myself acing this test. I don’t know whether I’ll call Ethan and we will reunite, or whether the Amish boy will talk to me during break, or whether I will succeed as a veterinarian, or whether my family and community will accept me if I do. But I do know one thing: right here, and right now, I feel as though I’m exactly where I belong. Clutching my Number 2 pencil, I take a deep breath, open my eyes, and flip open my SAT booklet, ready for whatever comes next.

Rum-spring-a Break Part 3

by Kristina Ludwig
Oct 4
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: October 4, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Happy Thursday, all! And just in time for the (almost) weekend, here is the next segment of Rum-spring-a Break. You’ve had two sneak peeks to set the stage–in Part 3, a little wildness just might be in store!

I grin broadly. “Should we do something crazy?”

“It’s Thursday,” Jakob reminds me. “I have to work early tomorrow, and so do you.” Like the rest of our community, Jakob and I finished school when we were fourteen, and now we have jobs. He works in a garage, repairing cars, which he adores. I work with Mercy in a bakery, which I don’t adore.

“Let’s plan something for tomorrow, though,” Jakob says, draping his arm around my shoulder. “We’ll go cruising. I’ll swing by and pick you and Mercy up.” Jakob and his friends go cruising every weekend in his old Ford pickup. He saved up for years to buy it, but his parents won’t let him park it at home; he has to leave it at work when he’s not driving it.

“I can’t wait,” I say, smiling as I extricate myself from his arm. I’ve known Jakob since birth, and he’s like a brother to me. It feels weird to have him in my personal space. “Well, good night.”

“Good night, simmie,” Jakob says, referring to the Amish nickname for newcomers to rumspringa. His teasing tone belies the flash of hurt in his crystalline blue eyes. I ignore it and dash toward home. I really need to sleep a bit; something tells me tomorrow will be an exciting day.

***

“Woooohoo!” Mercy screams, sticking her head out Jakob’s truck window like a dog. Jakob’s friend Abram gives Mercy a playful slap on the back and cranks up some hip-hop music on Jakob’s souped-up radio.

I sit back in my seat, the bass from the speakers shaking my insides. I am in a state of sensory overload. My birthday celebration has been a marathon, starting with my father painting our picket fence blue, essentially proclaiming to the Amish boys, “Come and get ‘em! Girls of marriageable age live here!” At our birthday party, Mercy and I acquired English clothes from our good friend Hannah, and now we’re wearing them. I’m a little self-conscious about the way my new skimpy, brightly colored sundress clings to my body and shows my arms and legs. On the upside, the night breeze feels deliciously decadent as it caresses my skin.

I close my eyes and let my loose hair blow free in the wind. My wavy, chestnut-brown hair is as straight and shiny as an English model’s, thanks to the borrowed flat iron. My eyelashes look about twice their usual length and thickness, and my glossy lips shimmer, thanks to the borrowed make-up. I feel like everything in my life is borrowed right now, even my time; I’m not used to having free time at night. Normally, I’d be asleep, since, even on Saturdays, my chores start early. During rumspringa, however, my parents are a little more lax with their demands. Thank goodness my younger siblings will pick up the slack.

Jakob, Abram, Mercy, and I arrive in Pittsburgh after an hour drive. I’ve never seen the city before, and the twinkling lights dazzle me as they glint off the three rivers. We pass over a bridge, and enter a more crowded section of town. English kids seem to frolic in the streets, calling loudly back and forth to each other. Jakob somehow maneuvers his big, clumsy truck into a tiny spot near a ramshackle-looking apartment building. The people inside are blasting music so loudly that Jakob’s stereo sounds like a whispering wind in comparison.

“Where are we going?” I ask the boys. Mercy hops out of the truck, smoothing her short skirt and eyeing some particularly cute English guys heading into the apartment.

“To a college party,” Jakob replies. He actually looks somewhat English in his tee shirt and jeans, although his Amish-style bowl cut and light beard give him away. Even without his hat, his hair is totally flattened, in contrast to the spiky, slick, or just plain voluminous locks of the English boys.

“The Pitt students have great parties,” Abram says, ogling three girls sporting tiny shorts and pink and purple streaks in their glowingly unnatural blonde hair. “They don’t mind if we crash their parties, as long as we bring something.” Abram grabs two six-packs of beer from the back of the truck–he’s the only one of us over twenty-one–and we head in the direction of the noise.

A Sneak Peek at My Short Story Contest Entry

by Kristina Ludwig
Sep 13
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: September 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm

My looooong hiatus from the blogosphere is over!

I promise I had my reasons, though…namely manic YA fiction writing. My latest project was a 4,000 word YA short story for the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction contest. My entry, Rum-spring-a Break, is about a sixteen-year-old Amish girl who dreams of being a veterinarian. During her rumspringa, the rite of passage for Amish youth, she takes steps to actualize her dreams after attending her first non-Amish party, where she finds inspiration in unexpected places.

Writing Rum-spring-a Break was exciting for me because it is about a topic that not many people know about. Although I grew up in western Pennsylvania and am well acquainted with the Amish, I had no idea about rumspringa customs, and found my research fascinating. I was especially intrigued by the Amish viewpoint on education; the Amish finish theirs after the eighth grade level, and they do not embrace college education because too much “worldly wisdom” makes one proud.

However, since many Amish run businesses, some theorize that they will be more open to additional formal education in the future. This formed the basis of Rum-spring-a Break, in which the main character’s primary struggle is her desire to eventually be baptized Amish, yet to also receive a college education.

Following is an excerpt from Rum-spring-a Break. Look for installments of the whole story on my blog coming soon!

“Rebekah!” A familiar voice rings out over the verdant hillside, shattering my daydream. I love afternoons in the fields, after I finish my chores. I always kick off my clunky shoes and frolic in the babbling brook, then collapse in the crisp, cool grass at the water’s edge. My mother would scold me for wasting time if she knew, so the indulgence feels like an act of rebellion. We Amish teens don’t get enough of those, especially before rumspringa rolls around.

I open my eyes and push myself up on one elbow as my twin sister, Mercy, scurries toward me. Mercy never walks when she can run. “Only one day until rumspringa!” she calls, grabbing my hands and pulling me to my feet. “Look what worldly goods I have!”

Mercy holds out a bottle of shocking pink nail polish, and a strange, flat contraption with a long cord.

“What’s that?” I ask, wrinkling my nose.

“A flat iron,” Mercy says. Then, in response to my vacant expression, she adds, “To straighten your hair. Elizabeth Beiler used it during her rumspringa. She doesn’t need it anymore, so she gave it to us.”

Elizabeth, our neighbor, is nineteen years old. Like most Amish, she started rumspringa at age sixteen. Rumspringa literally means “to jump around,” but in our community, it’s the time when teens discover the world of the non-Amish, whom we call “English.” Just last week, Elizabeth was baptized, which means she has chosen to remain in the Amish community, and her parents are pleased.

Mercy and I have amassed a small collection of bootleg rumspringa artifacts from our friends and neighbors. We have colorful eye shadows and lip-glosses, even a decadent bottle of perfume called Dead Sexy. We have adult books that we’re not supposed to read. And Mercy has a neon green push-up bra, which she sometimes sneaks under her long, modest dress. I tried it one morning, but I couldn’t even wear it to the breakfast table; I felt like I was lying to the world.

“We should really stop accumulating these worldly goods,” I tell Mercy as I reluctantly pull on my heavy stockings and sturdy brown clogs. “You know we could be punished or even shunned for starting rumspringa early.”